Laika's Kubo and the Two Strings Strikes a New Chord
Laika Entertainment has been the staple for stop motion animation since The Corpse Bride came out in 2006. Though the film was not Laika property, it was one of the company’s first major works. The first movie that boosted Laika Entertainment into the limelight, however, was my favorite stop motion film of all time: Coraline. Since Coraline premiered in 2009, Laika has had a very solid portfolio. After Coraline came ParaNorman in 2012, followed by The Boxtrolls in 2014, and now Laika has unleashed their next great feature with Kubo and the Two Strings.
To say that Kubo and the Two Strings is a beautiful piece of stop motion cinema would be a wildly insulting understatement to the craftsmanship that went into making the film. If there’s one thing that Laika Entertainment is known for, it’s patience. The company takes their time on their films and constantly raises the bar in what can be down with stop motion animation. Each film Laika does, brings new platforms and formats to the craft. They bend and stretch the barrier and then always break through the ceiling of expectations. I can honestly say that I’ve never been disappointed in a Laika film and all Kubo has done is solidify that statement with their beautiful artwork, fantastical storytelling, superb voice acting, and wildly imaginative universes.
To say that [Kubo] is a beautiful piece of stop motion cinema would be a wildly insulting understatement to the craftsmanship that went into making the film.
Travis Knight, the CEO of Laika Entertainment, dons the director’s chair solo for the first time with Kubo and the Two Strings and it’s very easy to see why he holds the title of CEO for the company. The care and precision he put into making this film is staggering. If you get the chance, watch any of the videos Laika has uploaded to YouTube for a behind the scenes look at the making of Kubo and the Two Strings. It’s clear to see that Knight had a vision from the get-go and knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish with this film. The ancient Japanese culture that sets the atmospheric tone for the story is beautiful. It’s handled with care and done with the utmost respect for the culture. It creates the ambiance of the film and truly feels like a foreign feature at times.
While all of the films Laika has made have had an incomparable uniqueness to them, Kubo and the Two Strings may be the strongest contender of the four. To tell Kubo’s story here would only do harm to the meticulous planning and grandiose attention to detail that went into making this film. I could not do it justice. What you can expect from this film is beauty, intelligence, talent, and surprise. With each Laika film comes a strong child talent voicing our main character. Whether it was Dakota Fanning in Coraline, Kodi Smit-McPhee in ParaNorman, or Isaac Hempstead Wright and Elle Fanning in The Boxtrolls, the frontrunner of each film has done a superb job and Art Parkinson as Kubo is no exception. Parkinson’s voice talent is what truly drives Kubo and the Two Strings. His innocence and storytelling techniques are fascinating. His talent doesn’t support the animation, the animation supports his talent and that’s a very fine detail to tread when it comes to animated features. You want the voice talent to live on their own, you want them to be able to breathe without having to lean on the animation as a crutch.
To tell Kubo’s story here would only do harm to the meticulous planning and grandiose attention to detail...
It isn’t just Parkinson that leads this film’s voice talent though. He’s accompanied by two fantastically whimsical characters called Monkey and Beetle, voiced by Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey respectfully. The three of these leads work off each other with such elegance and ease. The rhythm of the film flows almost too well. Their characters carry the film greatly. Though, this is not to say that the story is lackluster, it is anything but. The strengths of Kubo and the Two Strings are tenfold. The uniqueness of the story, as Laika has worn proudly on their sleeves in all their films, keeps the audience fascinated. What’s so great about this film is that it is not just interesting for children, it’s very impressive and intriguing for adults as well. Over the years I’ve had the discussion about whether or not Laika is a company that makes children’s movies. I don’t believe they do. That’s not to say that children cannot enjoy the films but I do believe the films are intended for a more mature audience. Coraline was one of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen, period.
One (other) thing that makes Kubo stand out is the well-crafted villains that are sprinkled throughout the journey. Each one is utterly creepy and add a great sense of horror to the plot of the film. Whether it’s Kubo fighting the sea monster or the dragon, or the twin samurai ghost warriors, each one is given a good amount of screen time and each is vastly different from the other. All of their films run very much like a video game with boss battles and I always found that very interesting to watch on the big screen. The villains of Kubo and the Two Strings are fun to watch and even more fun to root against in battle.
I can see Kubo becoming the basis for all stop motion courses taught at schools.
f you haven’t guessed it by now, Kubo and the Two Strings is a masterful piece of cinema, not just stop motion cinema. The film is strong in ways many others are not. It holds its own in so many different aspects. From the voice talents, to the story telling, to the visuals, to the pacing, Laika knew how to be a solid foundation for an even stronger film. I can see Kubo becoming the basis for all stop motion courses taught at schools. In time, the film will become a staple of “How to make a good stop motion film” and it deservedly so should wear that title proud, with honor, much the same way Kubo shows honor throughout the film.