Some movies are easy to describe. Like the one where a boy discovers an alien stranded on Earth. Or the film about a dad searching for his lost son (OK, father and son are fish). Then there are the movies that aren’t simple to synopsize – such as “Inside Out” or any of “The Avengers” films. “Kubo and the Two Strings,” the latest cinematic offering from the wonderfully creative folks at Laika Entertainment, fits into this latter category.
It is really best to go into this movie knowing as little as possible about the story so you can be charmed by the way it unfolds. but I will share a bit of the plot. Kubo is a young boy living in ancient Japan with his ailing mother. His warrior father died when Kubo was a baby. Although Kubo is just a child, he has magical powers, particularly when using his shamisen (a traditional Japanese guitar-like instrument). Kubo goes on a heroic quest to find his father’s powerful suit of armor and keep it away from the evil Moon King (who just happens to be his mother’s father). Accompanying Kubo on his journey is Monkey, a protective monkey that was Kubo’s toy before it was brought to life by his mother. Along the way, the two are joined by Beetle, a cursed human samurai who now is part man, part beetle.
“Kubo And The Two Strings” plays out like an ancient Japanese fable, although it actually is an original
story by Shannon Tindle and Marc Haimes, who collaborated with Chris Butler on the screenplay. The movie creates a dramatic adventure story with elements of magic realism and plenty of humor, but it tells a more serious tale than, for example, the “Kung Fu Panda” movies. And the comedy is built around the characters rather than just slapstick antics.
This Focus Features release marks the impressive directorial debut of Laika CEO Travis Knight. Besides getting the drama/comedy balance right, he seamlessly blends Laika’s signature use of stop-motion animation with computer generated animation to give the movie a strong visual style. He also gets terrific performances from the vocal talent. Matthew McConaughey excels as the brave but bungling Beetle, while Charlize Theron makes Monkey quite human as Kubo’s cautious guardian figure. The two also shine when Monkey and Beetle do their frequent bickering. Art Parkinson, perhaps best known as Rickon Stark on “Game Of Thrones,” is the voice of Kubo and he more than holds his own with Theron and McConaughey, while making his pre-teen samurai quite believable.
Laika’s prior three films, “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” and “The Boxtrolls,” received Academy Award nominations for Best Animated Feature, and “Kubo” certainly will join them this year.