Kubo and the Two Strings is the latest animated film from Laika, the stop-motion animation studio responsible for Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls. Set in a magical ancient Japan, the film is about young storyteller Kubo (Art Parkinson) who is set about on a quest to find the greatest armour in the world, and with it defeat his evil God-like grandfather The Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughters the Moon Sisters (both played by Rooney Mara). Joining Kubo on his adventure is his sworn guardian, Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle, a clumsy yet strapping insect-man (Matthew McConaughey).
Our heroes of this story have plenty of brightness and courage about them. Whilst Kubo is reluctant to take on such a perilous task, he finds his stride in honouring the memory of his parents. Monkey, the no-nonsense stern enforcer, and Beetle as the goofy, clueless comic-relief, fight with each other, acting out parental roles. I loved seeing the three interact and figure out the obstacles before them, great and small. They each contribute to this film’s giant heart, meanwhile breaking our own many times over.
Kubo himself may be this year’s greatest film hero, weaving eccentric stories, playing fantastic three-string (not two-string, for some reason) guitar, casting exceptional magic, and wielding a sword like a third arm. But he is still a child, and voice-actor Art Parkinson delivers a sweet charm to the character, giving him an emotional edge over the grown-ups.
Their adventures span many enchanting locations realised in epic, sweeping detail by Laika’s unique animation style. How the studio is able to not only create these wide and beautiful panoramas, mountains and oceans, but also the intricacies of the characters’ facial features is beyond me. It is astonishing to see animation this breathtaking, even after Pixar has unparalleled in the art for 20 years.
The film does have underwhelming villains, and only Kubo and some side-characters have actual names, which is an odd choice by the screenwriters. Some of the magical elements don’t always make sense too – but these are all nitpickings that do not ruin the experience.
Kubo and the Two Strings is not only a gorgeous film to look at, but it has a unique and heartwarming narrative, and is fit to be seen by anyone and everyone. Final tip: stick around for the credits to hear an amazing cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by Regina Spektor.
Review by Christopher Spencer