THERE WAS a bit of a lull after Laika’s 2009 feature debut Coraline, but the local animation studio has once again nailed it with its new release Kubo and the Two Strings. The stop-motion visuals are beyond breathtaking, the scenery is effing majestic, and the characters are likeable in this hero’s journey set in ancient Japan. The film’s emotional heart and mythic, fantastical proportions make it a perfect blend of sweet and strange.
The journey’s one-eyed hero, Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson), wakes up to care for his sick mother before making his daily trek down to the village to thrill his audience as a busker spinning yarns with a shamisen instrument and enchanted origami. The boy’s got a bit of magic in him, which means he’s highly sought after by his evil grandfather and aunties, otherworldly spirits who long to pluck out his remaining eye. In a last-ditch effort to protect her son, Kubo’s mother sends him on a quest to find a magical suit of armor with a nanny monkey (Charlize Theron) as a companion.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a story jammed with references—to samurais, Kurosawa films, Japanese mythology, Lady Snowblood, and more—and as such, the plot feels fuzzy, but that’s easy to forgive in a film that looks this amazing and boasts such detailed stop-motion craftsmanship. I think adults will love it. Kids? Eh, who cares—those little guys will watch anything. More discerning eyes will feast on the crystalline snow flurries, giant skeletons, undersea eye creatures, dunderheaded beetle samurais, and oodles of lovely scenery. No kids’ flick can go without imparting a message, but Kubo has one that everyone can get behind: In essence, it’s to remember the dead because your memories keep them alive. Like the rest of the film, it’s touching and sidesteps sickly sentimentality, and looks great doing it.