Kubo and the Two Strings | 2016 | Dir. Travis Knight | 1 hour 42 minutes | Laika & Focus Features
It’s 2017, and Kubo and the Two Strings is the most gorgeous stop- motion animated feature ever made.
Kubo comes from Laika Studios, the humble house behind stop- motion masterpieces like Coraline, ParaNorman, and Boxtrolls. The original story by Shannon Tindle, Marc Haimes and Chris Butle has Japanese influence. Kubo, a one eyed- boy, brings origami action figures to life with his shamisen. His mom, a shadow spirit, risked her life to save Kubo and suffers from amnesia. The two live in hiding from her vengeful spirit family. When Kubo accidentally stays out after dark, his evil aunts and grandfather send Kubo on the run. He gets help from Monkey, formerly a carved charm, and Beetle, a discombobulated Samurai.
The scenes in Kubo take your breath away. These animators said yes to everything. We see underwater wonderlands, boats made of autumn leaves, towering monsters, slinking dragons and spectacular textures on everything from water to snow. It made me wonder: how did they do it?
“There are some shots that are entirely practical [stop- motion]. There are shots that are almost entirely CG. And then there are some shots that are blended,” said director Travis Knight. “We’re not purists about stop- motion.”
He added that every shot started with a handmade asset or puppet. Kubo has about 200.
You can hardly blame Laika for embracing the computer. Kubo looks smoother than any other stop- motion feature, hushing critics who call the format “clunky”. The puppets’ handmade charm still makes the movie feel more intimate than your average glossy CG film. In fact, this movie looks better than most films, period. Even if the pacing runs a little slow for an animated flick, you have to marvel at the artistry in each and every frame.
But Kubo has more than a pretty face. Kubo takes the audience on a magical journey. Kubo gives a breath of fresh air. Kubo has all the elements of a classic folktale, including hard life lessons and a bittersweet ending. Kubo deals with family, loss, bravery, and the beauty in humanity. We all need some of that right now.