KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
(2016, Travis Knight)
[Image courtesy of Laika Pictures and Focus Features]
[4.5 out of 5 stars]
Don’t blink, Kubo tells the audience in the beginning. Really, don’t. From the very first frame my eyes were wide open to the dazzling images bestowed by this beautifully animated film - yet another one from Laika who also made another animated classic a few years back called CORALINE. Known for their painstaking and incredibly detailed designs, Laika is a studio that operates against the careless and uninspiring work that plague most mainstream movies. If you look at any behind-the-scenes footage from this studio you will be in awe by all the work that is put into their movies. Sets are built in smaller scales and are so inconceivably detailed that it produces an unmatched level of immersion. It’s like falling into a storybook and living inside it for an hour or two.
The technical details really shine, I particularly loved the design of the two sisters who are costumed in Noh masks, black capes and black hats, producing an arresting and unsettling image. They are both voiced by Rooney Mara who give them an air of detachment and completes the bone-chilling design - some younger viewers might find them a little too scary though. It’s not afraid to take us into some inventively creepy places like the underwater garden of eyes that lures its victims by hypnotising them.
This particular film integrates the art of origami in the character design and is a significant part of the narrative. Kubo possesses the ability to bring these origami sculptures to life when he plays the shamisen. It’s his magical gift. He tells stories while pieces of paper fold themselves into intricate creatures and characters, choreographed with the music. It is so fun to watch. It restored my wonder for the magic of movies, which I really needed after a blockbuster season of duds and disasters. I can always count on the kids movies to that for me.
Connecting people through storytelling is a key theme of the film and It has a simple and familiar structure: find the magical items, find allies along the way and defeat the big bad. It structure is so straightforward it actually feels likes a video game: defeat one boss, collect the item and repeat. The battles end with a fade to white acting as chapter ends and organises its orderly structure. This is not a bad thing because despite it’s uncomplicated storyline, the writes weave in dark and complex themes you wouldn’t expect from a children’s movie and gives it that extra dimension. It doesn’t shy away from dealing with the heaviness of grief or exploring the purpose of memory.
Complex familial relationships are explored that push the narrative forward and also bring some surprises along the way. The family here is a source of both pain and love and the great conflict lies in the pursuit of the latter through sacrifice and courage. This is a work of great sensitivity and care, telling an intimate story paired with spectacular visuals. Don’t blink.