LAIKA’s stop-motion animation uses Japanese origami techniques to create a breathtaking fantasy world. 3-and-a-half out of 4 stars.
In the world of animation, Pixar gets a lot of attention, and rightly so — but the Oregon-based animation studio LAIKA deserves cheers, particularly for its stunningly lovely fourth feature, “Kubo and the Two Strings.” Following strong work with “Coraline” (the studio’s first film), “ParaNorman” and “The Boxtrolls,” “Kubo” takes LAIKA’s trademark stop-motion animation to a new level, using Japanese origami techniques to create a breathtaking fantasy world.
At heart, “Kubo” is a quest, with a child at its center: young Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) who lives in a fishing village in ancient Japan. By day, he tells stories with origami characters to enthralled townspeople; before nightfall, he rushes home to take care of his beautiful, haunted mother, who says little but who has warned him to not be out in the dark. One night, Kubo lingers, accidentally summoning a vengeful spirit from his history. With his magical shamisen (a traditional stringed musical instrument) and two guiding comrades in the form of a monkey (Charlize Theron) and a beetle (Matthew McConaughey), Kubo sets out on a quest to find peace for his family.
The story and the voices, though familiar, are perfectly serviceable, but I wonder about the now-standard tendency of sticking movie-star voices in animated films. For a work this culturally specific, why not use an all-Japanese voice cast? Famous voices don’t necessarily register, anyway. I thought McConaughey’s voice was George Clooney’s.
Movie Review ★★★½
‘Kubo and the Two Strings,’ with the voices of Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro, Rooney Mara, Matthew McConaughey. Directed by Travis Knight, from a screenplay by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler. 101 minutes. Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril. Several theaters.
What matters about “Kubo” are the visuals; you’ll get happily lost in the subtle 3D beauty on-screen. Just look at Kubo’s mother’s quiet face, with a nightmare from her past shadowing her mournful eyes in a way that’s uncanny for an animated figure. Or the (quite scary) two “aunt-ghosts,” clothed in black, eerily gliding across a dark lake, rubbery red lips gleaming under the wide brims of their hats. Or the way a paper chicken, created by Kubo, amusingly explodes into a shower of tiny paper squares. Or how a pale-blue sea meets a pale-blue horizon, slashed with streaky soft-orange clouds. Or the sight of glowing lanterns floating in misty water, before they transform into golden birds flying away, or … I could describe almost every frame of this movie, or you could just go see it.
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As Kubo warns, early on, don’t blink — you might miss something. Something that — and what a treat this is — you’ve never seen before.