‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ leaves lasting impression

Evergreen movie columnist, Daniel Anderson.

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Summer typically means two things for people: adventure and blissful fun, or unfulfilling and bland routine day in and day out. This season’s slate of movies was definitely the latter. I was beginning to worry if I would be able to feel a last hoorah to this summer before being entangled in the daily grind of school. “Kubo and the Two Strings” felt like a dutiful crescendo to a concert of one note cinema and the perfect sendoff song as I bid farewell to this time of leisure.

The film wastes no time narrating setup and putting the audience right into the thick of the plot. Our titular hero has already lost one of his eyes to his mystical grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). Kubo’s mother is fleeing from her evil family and trying to escape a violent and torrential storm all while protecting her newborn son.

Fast forward to a 12-year-old Kubo living in a cave with his mother. He spends his days traveling to the local village regaling the townsfolk with an epic hero’s legend. Keep an eye out for his magical ability to manipulate and breathe life into his origami creations via his Japanese three-string lute, the samisen. These sequences were some of the most exquisitely executed animations ever put on screen in the modern age.

Kubo never finishes his stories, much to the villager’s displeasure, as he must return home before nightfall or risk being hunted by his twisted family. Unsurprisingly, he stays out after his curfew one night and our quest begins. Like something straight out of The Shining, Kubo meets his sinister, witchlike twin aunts, both voiced impeccably by Rooney Mara. Kubo’s mother comes to his rescue, but she urges him to escape and collect pieces of an armor capable of stopping his grandfather.

On his journey, he runs into an ironically “all business and no play” monkey, sublimely voiced by Charlize Theron, and a lighthearted beetle that used to be a samurai in Kubo’s father’s army (Matthew McConaughey).

They face hauntingly beautiful and colossal monsters along the way. During breaks between battles, there are moments of purposeful backstory, appreciated humor and tender moments with which anyone can resonate.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” marks the 4th film and possibly best work from Oregon-based stop-motion animation studio Laika, famous for movies like “The Boxtrolls,” “ParaNorman” and “Coraline.”

Travis Knight, CEO of Laika, makes his directorial debut with Kubo and showcases why stop-motion should be a revered art form. Audiences have already been treated to a handful of animated films this summer – “Finding Dory,” “Sausage Party” and “Secret Life of Pets” to name a few – and while Pixar is consistently at the top of their game, Laika is truly in a class all their own.

Knight and his team incorporate a wide arsenal of techniques including stereoscopic 3D. The mix of Japanese and American styles pays homage to Miyazaki, Kurosawa, Spielberg and Lucas to weave a perfect blend of east meets west.

While the storytelling is textbook Joseph Campbell, it was a perfect device for this type of tale. Maturity and nuanced themes are something Laika and many Japanese animated stories fearlessly go toward. This movie never talks down to the young audience viewing it and presents complex subject matter in a skilled way. That is something to be appreciated as it can open up meaningful and inevitable discussions between child and parent.

It is unlike anything I have ever seen before, but it is absolutely gorgeous. I beseech everyone to vote with their dollars so Laika can keep churning out more stunning works like this.

Kubo’s main catchphrase throughout the movie is “If you must blink, do so now.” This proves to be sage advice to watchers of the film as you will not want to miss a single detail of this immaculate chronicle.

Grade: A

Runtime: 1 hour and 50 minutes

Rating: PG