Modern animation maestros Laika (Coraline, Paranorman and The Boxtrolls) return with their fourth and best film to date, a beautifully majestic, dreamlike tale that may play fast and loose with much conventional logic, but serves up one of the year’s most gleefully imaginative movies, animated or otherwise.
In ancient Japan, one-eyed youngster Kubo (Art Parkinson) ekes out an unassuming life with his unwell mother, Sariatu (Charlize Theron), but after Kubo is attacked by his mother’s Sisters (Rooney Mara), Sariatu sends him away to locate his father’s magical armour in order to defeat the Sisters and his malevolent grandfather, Raiden the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). Teaming up with Monkey (Charlize Theron) and the samurai Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), the trio will travel far and wide to locate the three pieces of Kubo’s father’s armour.
As with every prior Laika movie, Kubo is a jaw-dropping credit to the dwindling stop motion animation field, so meticulously conceived that the fluidity of the movement is often scarcely believable as anything less than CGI. It’s the art direction that truly makes the movie pop, though, evoking a mystical sense of place quite unlike anything else seen on the big screen this year. And what voice acting! Theron and McConaughey in particular do splendidly sweet, heart-warming work, and Rooney Mara is genuinely spine-tinglingly creepy as both of the aforementioned Sisters.
It’s fair to say that when it comes to concrete logic, however, Kubo isn’t so strong or so concerned; those looking for coherence from A-to-Z may be a little dismayed that, as is so frequent in the fantasy genre, things happen “because magic” without much internal rhyme or reason. It’s easy enough to roll with given the film’s technically splendid, soul-stirringly emotional nature, though had things made a little more sense on the whole, this could’ve nudged up against the five-star echelons. For my money, Zootopia and Sausage Party are still superior animations albeit for wildly different reasons (and neither is as remotely artistically accomplished as Kubo).
All things considered, it’s a crying shame the film has bombed with audiences despite rapturous reviews, because Laika are making movies like nobody else out there, and one hopes this “failure” won’t discourage them from continuing to turn out such singular, imaginative work in the future. Hollywood needs Laika, whether it realises it or not.
Kubo and the Two Strings is in cinemas now