A film review: 'Kubo and the Two Strings'

Origin: United States · Language: English
Director: Travis Knight
Marc Haimes, Chris Butler
Genres: Action, adventure, fantasy · Release: August 19, 2016

Voice casts:
Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron,
Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes,
George Takei, Rooney Mara, Brenda Vaccaro

More info: IMDb

Here are a few reasons why this film, which popped out like out of nowhere, tickled some sort of bone in me. First, it's because of this awesome teaser image.

Secondly, I found out that this was made by Laika, the same studio that had an impressive debut with the adapted work of Coraline (the only one before Kubo that I've watched) and since then, consistently-praised works for their painstakingly-detailed stopmotion masterpieces. Yes. In an era where CGI rules, this is one of the few studios that still honour the old-school and alternate way of making animated films, which I think was made super popular by Henry Selick (coincidentally the director of Coraline) and Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas... or please correct me if I'm wrong about this. Nevertheless, I can't believe what I've just experienced yesterday. It was worth more than the admission price of RM20, as I think this studio deserves more money thrown at the screen for this exquisite motion picture  (and emphasize on MOTION picture) made with sheer, literal fluidity!

This easily kicked the big giants' asses when it comes to stunning visuals and heartfelt storyline as well as screenplay, accompanied by chilling scores, immersive sound designs, stellar voice acting by big names and an up-and-comer, and then some. Too bad that this impressive animation didn't get that much love from filmgoers both locally and overseas at the moment. Thankfully, this review is here to convince you guys why it is IMPORTANT for anyone who reads this review to go and catch this film like pronto on the BIG SCREEN. And yeah, this is SPOILER-FREE.

Let's start with the plot. Kubo (Parkinson) is a kid who likes to tell stories and blessed with magical powers he doesn't even know how to fully harness. After a tragedy befalls on him and his village, he must take a voyage in pursuit of finding pieces of important weaponry that is to be used against the culprit responsible for taking out things that are near and dear to him, with the help of two unlikely companions: a Monkey (Theron) and a humanoid Beetle (McConaughey).

First off, the plot summary is obviously an understatement that could easily fool you into thinking that this is a typically loud, assault-to-the-senses, kid-friendly production with forced excitement. It's not. It's a complex experience that is crafted to be enjoyed by both kids and adults alike. For the kids, there are kid characters and fun, colourful visual cues in the form of very elaborate origami paperworks and silly slapstick moments. For the adults, there are some heavy themes and philosophies underlying beneath the occasionally witty dialogues and intense action/sentimental/dramatic sequences. Both of these I think have a terrific balance on the writing and plotting sides of the film, which is great news for everyone, right? Absolutely!

Next off, the voice cast. Art Parkinson is terrific as Kubo. He gives it all in giving life to a kid who has to cope with loss and work his way to become a strong person. Charlize Theron also makes for an outstanding voice of a mother figure to Kubo in the form of a Monkey, whose personality was indeed... very motherly for a white-furred primate. Matthew McConaughey is also terrific here, striking a terrific balance in being... McConaughey and a very reliable and capable goofball. Sadly, the main villain, played by Ralph Fiennes, isn't that scary as opposed to his pair of henchwomen, both voiced Rooney Mara, which perfectly embodies the remorselessness of people who couldn't give two shits about others in order to fulfill what they think they are destined to do. Oh yeah, an honorable mention goes to the adorable elderly voiced by Brenda Vaccaro, who not only provide additional comic relief to the film, but also a great catalyst who subversively urges Kubo to finally have a greater purpose in life.

The sound department? As this is a film highly influenced by the Japanese culture, appropriate instrumentation and homage is needed to accompany the fantastical visual elements. And it works very well with the film. The reimagined While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Regina Spektor is particularly a highlight of the film, as the instrumentation of this version fits very well with the overall stylings and story of the film.

And now, off to the most obvious aspect of the film: the animation itself. It's just really hard to believe that the entirety of the technical side of the animation are made with human hands! After watching a featurette on how each of the movements, props, and character models are made, I was like "How the heck did they even think about doing any of this?" Every single part of this film, from lanterns in villages, dangling ornaments underneath a rolling drum, right down to the impossibly awesome-looking oceans, abundance of extra character models, rustling leaves, hairs, monster models (yes, there are monsters, and they are literally HUGE in scale, both in the film AND in real-life) and the works, they did it all with meticulous precision, with CGI only used to enhance or smooth out a few details here and there. This is just a very, totally unprecedented hard work from Travis Knight, a first-time animation director and the CEO of Laika himself, and the awesome team behind his vision.

Aside from the underdeveloped voice performance of the villain which does not match his well-written backstory, Kubo and the Two Strings is just arguably a perfect package to be presented to casual viewers, film critics, and parents who are looking for a jolly good time with their children, all while feeling that this film is not degrading any of those audiences. Go ahead and support this small studio so that they could independently stand toe-to-toe with giants like Disney, Dreamworks, and Sony. Please! Please forget The Secret Life of Pets OR Trolls! This is highly recommended, and so far, completely underrated piece of artwork!

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