I’m probably being biased since I live in Oregon, but Laika’s “Kubo and the Two Strings” just gave Disney a run for its money. It’s the best animated film of the year, and you know how much I loved “Zootopia.”
Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a one-eyed boy in an Ancient Japanese village, who makes money by telling mythological stories with his shamisen (it’s best you watch the movie to understand). Kubo is supposed to be home before dark, but when stays out too late, he finds himself hunted by his evil grandfather (a chameleon Ralph Fiennes) and witch aunts (both voiced creepily by Rooney Mara).
With the help of a warrior monkey (Charlize Theron) and a dimwitted samurai beetle (Matthew McConaughey), Kubo must find a sword and armor to face his grandfather.
The film opens with a voice over narrative saying, “If you must blink, do it now…” and Kubo’s right to instruct this. Start to finish, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is loaded with beautiful imagery and technically impressive stop motion effects.
The screenwriters confidently write a story that appeals to everyone. It’s a coming-of-age movie, a family movie, a Japanese mythology, a samurai film tribute, and even a horror movie (this is the same studio behind “ParaNorman”). The result of its genre combination is a thrilling, but moving adventure that will make you appreciate your family.
Acting-wise, everyone delivers. Parkinson (Rikan in “Game of Thrones”) is terrific and sounds like a kid, rather than a Hollywood kid. Theron voices the Monkey with sass and maternal love. McConaughey is comic relief, but he kills it.
The diegetic samisen sequences play an important part of the film’s narrative and blend well with Dario Marianelli’s beautiful non-diegetic score. Regina Spektor also provides an impressive cover of The Beetles’ “While My Guitar Gently Wheeps” that suits the movie’s magic. The music is the star of “Kubo and the Two Strings.”
If I go on talking about “Kubo and the Two Strings,” I’m risking spoilers here, so I’ll simply say this, see the damn movie.