By Justin Rev Ino Tamang
Forget anything animated you have seen this year; Kubo and the Two Strings is here.
In a fictional Japanese village, little boy Kubo (Art Parkinson) makes a living through street performances. He uses his shamisen (Japanese lute with three strings) to enchant paper, turning each sheet into intricate origami, which he uses to narrate his tales. He uses the money he earns to support his mother (Charlize Theron) whose memory is slowly fading.
Whenever his mother gains consciousness, she warns Kubo not to go outside after dark and that bad things will happen if he does. Eventually, Kubo ends up staying late one night. His evil aunts swoop in to attack him, forcing his mother to come out of their cave and defend Kubo. The ailing mother uses all of her magic to save Kubo. Before her demise, she instructs the little boy to search for a magical set of armor that would protect him from evil. And thus begins the quest of the shamisen-toting Kubo.
Kubo and the Two Strings is straight up magnificent. It is everything a perfect animated film should be. One would have a difficult time finding flaws in this Travis Knight-directed film. Allow me to break down into points the reasons this film works.
In terms of animation, the film is absolutely beautiful. It is everything you would expect out of Laika. The use of stop-motion is wonderful, and the attention to detail is superb. It is a joy to watch animation that syncs perfectly with the audio, from the dialogue to the score. Even the facial expressions of the characters when they speak are presented in fantastic detail. Alongside stunning backdrops and beautifully paced action scenes, Kubo proves itself to be a true-blue visual masterpiece.
Director Travis Knight does not hesitate to steer the story towards darker territory. The film is scary when it needs to be. Kubo’s evil aunts, for one, look like villains straight out of Japanese horror movies – and it’s amazing on screen. The fact that Kubo is Knight’s directorial debut makes everything even more impressive.
Audio-wise, Kubo is in no way a slacker. The voice acting is on-point in practically every scene. The impressive performances from the cast elevate the poetic dialogue to a whole different level. This combination allows the film to communicate emotions with extra potency.
Kubo boasts of a powerful soundtrack, too. Every piece serves as the ideal accompaniment to its corresponding sequence. The score stirs the right sensations and feels immersive, as if the audience is part of the scene.
Thematically, this Laika film is outstanding. It may appear as a typical adventure film for some – bold with doses of fun, action, and thrill here and there – but it’s deeper than that. This isn’t simply about a boy who has a daunting quest ahead of him; this is a story that presents stories within stories. This is about individuals being powerful enough to shape their destinies, to put the endings to their stories as they see fit. This is also about family relationships and the beauty of humanity despite its flaws.
Kubo and the Two Strings is the very definition of a perfect animated film. It presents a highly detailed world paired with amazing sound effects, dialogue, and music. Its themes are well thought out, moving, and met with proper resolutions. The harmony between these core elements makes Kubo well-rounded, leading to an enjoyable fantasy-adventure film with a deep, solid narrative presented in an outstanding manner.