I have to say, it's been a really fun week going back and revisiting Laika's feature filmography, from their stellar debut with Coraline, to the old school horror love letter ParaNorman, to the British comedic fable The BoxTrolls. And now, the day has finally arrived, where I can finally talk about one of my most anticipated movies of 2016, Kubo and the Two Strings.
Here's the story. In this epic fantasy, scruffy, kindhearted Kubo ekes out a humble living while devotedly caring for his mother in their sleepy shoreside village. It is a quiet existence. That is, until a spirit from the past catches up with him to enforce an age-old vendetta. Suddenly on the run from gods and monsters, Kubo’s chance for survival rests on finding the magical suit of armor once worn by his fallen father, the greatest samurai the world has ever known. Summoning courage, Kubo embarks on a thrilling odyssey as he faces his family’s history, navigates the elements, and bravely fights for the earth and the stars.
I can't believe I'm going to say this, but this movie pulled off the impossible, by taking the thrown from my previous favorite animated film of all time, The Prince of Egypt. Yeah, I know it's a bold statement, and I also know that that title can be won back with another rewatch, but this is how I feel right now, and I stand by it! Here are some of the highlights.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
First off, the cast is amazing. Yeah, I know I sound like a broken record, but have you been paying attention at all to the past couple of reviews? Laika knows exactly who would be perfect to voice these characters, especially if they come from critically acclaimed TV shows like Game of Thrones. So that's two films in a row where they pluck talent from that series, and this time the chosen one is Art Parkinson as the titular character, who's about as likable as pretty much all of the past protagonists in these films. Everyone in the supporting cast is great, there's literally not a single bad performance. Charlize Theron is amazing as Monkey, Kubo's guardian who accompanies him on his journey. They are then joined by the show stopping Beetle, played by Matthew McConaughey. There's a first time for everything, and one of those firsts is McConaughey stepping into a recording booth for his first animated film, and boy is he a revelation. It's not just a great dramatic performance, but his character is hilarious, delivering some of the funniest lines in the entire film. As for the villains, Rooney Mara plays the dual roles of The Sisters, while Ralph Fiennes is the Moon King. There's also great performances from George Takai as Hosato and Brenda Vaccaro as Kameyo.
This movie is the directorial debut for Laika's President & CEO Travis Knight, and let me just tell you, this might be the greatest directorial debut I've ever seen. Knight has most certainly paid his dues, starting his career in animation as an intern for the great Will Vinton, and eventually working his way towards heading up the company shortly after it was purchased by his father, Nike co-founder Phil Knight. Knight is essentially the reason why I'm such a huge fan of all of Laika's films, as he's been the lead animator on all of them, so it's only natural that he'd eventually want to direct one himself. Everything about the look of this movie is just beautiful. Each film that Laika's done has only gotten better and better in terms of the animation, and this time around they accomplish some pretty amazing things, such as creating one of the largest character models in stop-motion history. Yeah, make sure you stay through the credits so you can gaze at the glory of that giant skeleton creature. Even the water looks incredible, and that's hard to get right in any style of animation, let alone stop-motion. Every single shot of a sunset or the full moon I want freeze-framed and hanging on my wall.
The screenplay, written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler, is incredible. Butler previously wrote the screenplay for ParaNorman, which I praised immensely for it's loving homage to the classic horror films, as well as its fair share of comic relief. This time, it feels like many of its story beats come from the works of Hayao Miyazaki, Akira Kurosawa, Joseph Campbell, and Avatar: The Last Airbender creators Michael Dante DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko. That's a pretty potent blend of talent right there, enough for me to feel all sorts of emotions. Chances are you're probably dead inside if you don't find the movie's often corny sense of humor endearing, or if certain character deaths don't reduce you to a puddle of tears. What makes each Laika film special is their underlying themes, and this movie is all about the importance of storytelling and honoring the dead. Yeah, not since Big Hero 6 have I seen death handled this well in a family film.
Finally, the music, composed once again by Dario Marianelli, is breathtaking. As much as I love Hans Zimmer's work in animation, it pales in comparison to Marianelli's. This is another one of those names that just don't get the attention they deserve simply because they're not a John Williams or a Hans Zimmer, even though there are moments during the film where he's better than both combined. During the credits, singer-songwriter Regina Spektor performs a cover of one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Now, if you know me, you know I don't take kindly to Beatles covers, because I'm just that protective of the band, so if you're going to do one, it needs to really wow me. Well, mission accomplished, I have been sufficiently wowed.
Kubo and the Two Strings is by far the best animated film I've seen all year, and is about to share the title of best overall film of the year with Sing Street. There's absolutely nothing about this film that I didn't like, everything falls into place beautifully. Please guys, PLEASE go out and support this one, especially if you love seeing original films on the big screen!
And now the floor is yours. Have you seen Kubo and the Two Strings, and if so what did you think? Also, what are your favorite animated films of all time? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for my next review, which is essentially a cinematic high wire act, a remake of the 1959 classic Ben-Hur.