Kubo is a young boy, living secluded with his mother inside a mountain. Each day he goes to the nearby village and tells stories, using his magic to enact them to the villagers with moving origami figures. He tells the story of his heroic father, who was killed trying to save Kubo from his evil grandfather, the Moon King. Kubo lost an eye in the attack, but he and his mother managed to escape.
Kubo’s mother has told him there is one big rule – he must be home before darkness falls. However, while trying to honour his dead father the sun goes down and he comes under attack from his aunts. His mother uses the last magic to get Kubo to safety, telling him that his only way to protect himself is to find three magical pieces of armour that will make him nearly invulnerable. With his mother gone, Kubo’s only protection comes from Monkey, a charm that his mother brought to life as part of her final act, as well as Beetle, a man-size warrior bug they come across, who’s had his memory erased.
Together they set out to find the armour, attempting to escape monsters, the Moon King and his witchy daughters along the way.
What that synopsis doesn’t completely get across is that Kubo and the Two Strings is completely and utterly nuts. It’s packed with things that in purely logical terms make absolutely no sense, but in its own fantastical terms work perfectly. Set in a magical version of Japan, it brings to mind Studio Ghibli movies, where things happen for no logical reason, but somehow it still comes together into a coherent whole.
As we’ve come to expect from Laika – the studio behind Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls – it’s full to the brim of great-looking stop-motion animation. Indeed, they’ve upped their game here, opening up the movie with massive-vistas, incredible design and – as attested to in the special features – a desire to take stop-motion to places it’s never been before. That includes the largest stop-motion puppet ever at over 16-foot tall, entirely 3D printed puppets and an impressive mixing of stop-motion and CGI at key moments.
That’s backed up by an absorbing story, which takes what is in many ways a standard hero’s journey and throws in echoes of everything from The Wizard Of Oz to Snow White. Kubo also adds in plenty of emotion, with a tale about family, the importance of storytelling and how those things combine. It makes the brave move of telling a story that is essentially about death, grief and coming to terms with the loss of your parents – not typical family film topics – but it does it with heart, hope and genuine emotion. It’s a film that mixes lots of action with a surprisingly reflective mood, which casts a real spell over the viewer.
From the first few minutes it becomes oddly mesmerising, letting the viewer know this will not be like most animated movies. Instead it’s something completely singular, living in a world unlike anything quite like we’ve seen before, pulling in its Japanese influence and style to offer something rather beautiful and contemplative, but still with enough monsters and Samurai fighting to assure the kids are entertained. It really is a beautiful film.
The Blu-ray comes with a few interesting Special Features, most particularly a ‘making of’ documentary that takes a look at the fascinating production process and challenges of creating a film like this. It’s well worth watching.
Overall Verdict: A beautiful movie that once more sets Laika apart from nearly all animation studios. It tells its Japanese inspired tale with gorgeous style lots of heart.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac