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.