‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ gives 2016 its first masterpiece

Kubo and the Two Strings

As today’s major stop-motion movement company, Laika has been on my mouth since 2009. With its haunting visuals and unforgettable figures, the studio’s first appearance film, “Coraline,” is definitely in the running for my all-time favorite cartoon film.

That said, the studio’s following outings have failed to achieve those levels. “ParaNorman” is a strong respect to B-movie schlock and “ET”-era Spielberg, yet it does not have the rewatchability of its forerunner. Meanwhile, 2014’s “The Boxtrolls” hardly gets by on actual design.

Thankfully, Laika has included a second classic to its name.

Motivated by historical Japanese people lifestyle, “Kubo and the Two Strings” follows its titular character’s life in a modest shoreside town. By day, the young boy informs impressive stories to the villagers by manipulating origami with his three-stringed musical instrument.

By sundown, Kubo (Art Parkinson) returns to his hill cave to take care of his mother. She advices him to never stay out after dark, for doing so will release a vengeful soul.

Naturally, through a set of conditions, the young storyteller does that. From there, Kubo is sent on a pursuit to recover his late father’s samurai armor — the only weapon able of ruining the creatures who hunt him.

Almost right from the beginning, our hero-in-the-making comes a protector monkey (Charlize Theron) and a samurai beetle-man (Matthew McConaughey). It’s as fun as it appears to be.

Director Travis Knight’s respect for Japanese iconography stands out throughout this film. With the most effective marriage of stop-motion animation and CGI, this is easily one of the most creatively stunning films in recent memory.

There’s an unbridled sense of adventure to this movie, as the story development is similar to a video game or an legendary poetry. Each individual test of Kubo’s pursuit ends in a grand-scale boss battle, successfully making this a de facto “Legend of Zelda” film.

However, the film smashes up each section with moments of authentic pathos. With such a relatively small cast, “Kubo” offers sufficient time to connect with the hero and his two partners.

Theron’s Monkey is the master of tough love, which results in more than a few very funny moments.

However, McConaughey’s turn as Beetle makes for the most captivating animated film personality I’ve seen in years. Without ruining anything, his McConaughey-isms gel completely with his clueless conduct.

Seriously, Laika’s newest is not only its best outing since “Coraline,” but also it’s the best film of 2016 thus far.

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Watch 2016’s Animation Surge: Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings

First things first, I love animation. In my sight, it’s the most innovative and culturally different method in the movie industry today, and if 2016 has proven anything to us, it’s that animated movies are on a move with hits like Zootopia, Finding Dory, Sausage Party and the upcoming Moana. Animation works so well for imaginary stories because it’s able to make anything believable. It takes just as much time and money for an animator to draw a man walking down the road as it does for them to draw a dragon battling a massive octopus. The only boundaries are the filmmakers’ creativeness.

So now we have Kubo and the Two Strings, the newest venture from Laika studios, popular for beautiful stop-motion movies such as Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls. Not since Aardman Studios or the animated Tim Burton movies have we seen stop-motion done with such expertise. By mixing classic pose-and-shoot, puppetry, and computer-generated results, Laika draws off a design unique to itself which features amazing visuals while maintaining unchanged the imperfect, unreliable appeal of stop-motion.

Without giving too much away, Kubo and the Two Strings follows the tale of a young boy known as Kubo who lives outside of a little town with his single mother. His father was a great soldier who passed away defending him, and his tale lives on through Kubo’s performances in the town square. Using a Japanese three string guitar called a shamisen, Kubo delivers origami figures to life with magic and recounts the tale of his samurai father, Hanzo.

The tale is a by-the-numbers hero’s journey, but the structure works very well for a film like this. Kubo has to journey the areas to find three items to finish his father’s armor, and he encounters three difficulties to acquire each one. While this structure is foreseeable, it’s extremely interesting. For example, when the three characters get into a cavern to acquire the Sword Unbreakable, an enormous skeleton beast appears to eliminate them. This beast is so intensely affected by video game bosses from The Legend of Zelda and Shadow of the Colossus that it breaches plagiarism, with which I would have had more of a problem if I hadn’t just experienced what was for all intents and purposes a Zelda boss battle in a movie.

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