A young boy goes on a quest to uncover the truth about his past.
Coraline. ParaNorman. The Boxtrolls. Since its formation in 2005, American studio Laika has produced some of the most astounding animated films ever made and their latest is another certified masterpiece.
Kubo and the Two Strings takes its cues from Japanese legends, placing the action in fabricated feudal era where magic and myth are very much alive.
Here we meet a one-eyed boy called Kubo with some remarkable origami abilities who spends his time entertaining the locals and caring for his mother. Then things really kick off.
It’s the mix of elements which make Kubo so compelling. There’s the unusual story and setting, the use of music which ties Dario Marianelli’s eastern-inspired score to scenes of magic and the characters who combine drama and comedy in wonderful ways.
Then there are the visuals. Laika isn’t afraid to expand its scope and scale with the use of CG and that leads to some vast vistas which really bring this world to life.
Of course the standout element remains the stop motion animation, and Laika truly is leading the world in this ancient system. It’s all in the details, with this film featuring the most subtle faces and movements I’ve ever seen in stop motion.
So many techniques are used here, including the largest ‘puppet’ ever made and advanced 3D printing to massively increase the expressiveness of faces. But at it’s most basic level you still have teams of talented animators getting in there and moving each element a tiny degree at a time, bent over their work for years.
When you consider this is a film with complicated action sequences involving multiple combatants, not to mention snow, water and creatures of many different sizes and the result is even more impressive.
There’s a lot to like in the story too, mainly because it isn’t afraid to go to some pretty dark territory. It’s not an especially child friendly tale, dealing with themes of loss and death but that helps it to conjure up several powerful and emotional moments.
Anyone who has seen the studios' 2012 feature ParaNorman will know how emotional these features can get and while I still prefer that earlier effort the movements of the final act will almost certainly bring out a tear or two.
There are a few comedic moments which didn’t quite work for me and it is definitely a little weirder than most animated films. But there’s so much to like, including strong voice work from Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey and young Art Parkinson and an a truly magnificent art style brought to life a tiny slice at a time. Highly recommended.