Over five years in the making, "Kubo and the Two Strings" is an amazing feat from director/producer Travis Knight, who is President and CEO of LAIKA, the Oregon-based animation studio responsible for Oscar-nominated "Coraline", "ParaNorman" and "The Boxtrolls", all personal favorites of mine. Combining a multi-talented voice cast and crew, "Kubo and the Two Strings" is gorgeous to behold with unsurpassed animation.
Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson of "Game of Thrones") and his mother live high on a cliff above a tiny fishing village in ancient Japan. Though his mother seems locked in her own world most of the time, occasionally she still regales Kubo with glorious tales of her past life with his dead father. Kubo, in turn, imparts these stories to the local residents in order to make a meager living.
Warned many times by his mother not to stay out in the village past daylight, Kameyo (voiced by Brenda Vaccaro), a grandmotherly type, urges Kubo to take part in the village celebration of the dead. While trying to summon his deceased father, Kubo is caught in the dark by the evil spirits of his mother's twin Sisters (voiced by Rooney Mara).
He narrowly escapes their desperate clutches and finds himself on the run with his one worldly possession, a shamisen --- a magical musical instrument. In her final act to save him, his mother turns Kubo's toy Monkey into a real one (voiced by Charlize Theron). The two of them are then joined by a samurai Beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), who knew Kubo's father before he became an insect. Together the three begin a dangerous journey to track down The Armor Impenetrable, The Sword Unbreakable and The Helmet Invulnerable, all left behind by his father, the greatest samurai warrior ever.
"Kubo and the Two Strings" is not exactly a movie for small children. Kubo and his comrades encounter some pretty frightening creatures in The Far Lands, the Garden of Eyes and the Bamboo Forest. And the Moon King (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) may be the scariest of them all. But the original and wonderful screenplay of "Kubo and the Two Strings" centers on family and the inspirational power of storytelling.
The entire experience of "Kubo and the Two Strings" is so rich and vastly satisfying. Crafted as a tribute to Japanese art and culture, everything about this spectacular film is dedicated to creating an epic fantasy that will be viewed many times over and appreciated for its astounding beauty.
I simply cannot express my praise enough for "Kubo and the Two Strings". I implore all devotees of great filmmaking --- especially stop-motion animation --- to see this movie.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
Three things you should know about "Kubo and the Two Strings":
1. It is possibly the most ambitious animated film ever conceived
2. It contains some of the most mind-boggling effects ever seen
3. It is not for small children (take 'em to "Pete's Dragon" instead)
First-time director Travis Knight (President and CEO of LAIKA, which created "The Boxtrolls", among others) painstakingly headed a crew of more than 400 artists over five years to make "Kubo and the Two Strings". He wanted it to be true to Japanese culture, including details that will be transparent to all but the most knowledgeable moviegoers. But that doesn't matter.
"Kubo and the Two Strings" and its $60 million budget is a truly remarkable achievement, a combination of hand-drawn animation, CG and most notably, stop-motion. The Japanese art of origami ("ori" means folding, "kami" means paper) is at the forefront. The movie's hero, wonderfully voiced by young "Game of Thrones" actor Art Parkinson, magically makes elaborate figures out of plain sheets of paper, from a tiny orange warrior to a huge sailboat, a sequence that took 19 months to shoot. There is also a 16-foot fearsome skeleton monster --- too scary for little kids --- and we get a glimpse of its creation during the closing credits.
Influenced by the legendary Ray Harryhausen ("The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" was a childhood favorite of mine), animators for "Kubo and the Two Strings" averaged 3.31 seconds per week of finished footage. Stop-motion animation requires 24 frames per second. And based on Kubo's 11,000 mouth expressions and 4400 brow movements, the title hero had over 48 million possible facial expressions.
All this, and I haven't yet mentioned the stand-out cast. Charlize Theron voices Monkey, a tough-love creature who protects Kubo after the death of his mother. Matthew McConaughey voices Beetle, a samurai bug who also loves and watches over Kubo. Ralph Fiennes voices Moon King, one of the film's villains, and Brenda Vaccaro is terrific as the voice of Kameyo, a grandmotherly figure in Kubo's village. The voice-over performances are all first-rate. Theron and McConaughey --- this is his first foray as a voice actor --- have great comic chemistry, verbally jousting while their relationship grows ever stronger.
There so much to absorb in "Kubo and the Two Strings" that a second viewing is practically mandatory. Our screening was in 3D, highly recommended. And Oscar-winning Italian composer Dario Marianelli provides the fabulous original score of authentic Japanese music.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!