Laika Entertainment has been making incredible feature films since they released Coraline in the beginning of 2009. Since then every film the studio has released has been an astoundingly original piece of art with a style all their own. Sadly, none of the films have been massively successful. Coraline was made for a $60 million dollar budget and made back $124 and ParaNorman followed that film, but only earned $107.1 using the same sized budget. Their last feature, The Boxtrolls, made from the set price of $60 million, did just a bit higher in business than the last with $109.3. The funny thing is that each of these films was nominated for an Academy Award and it is a fact that, without a doubt, that Kubo And The Two Strings will see a nod as well. It still begs the question of why audiences are so disinterested in Laika.
Every time Pixar and Illumination step up to the box office plate they knock it out of the park with massive numbers. Given this year saw the release of Finding Dory, a sequel that a large audience had been looking forward to, so obviously, it would command a huge haul of cash but The Secret Life Of Pets had nothing like that kind of hype and still pulled over $100 million in its first weekend. Why doesn’t Laika earn this same audience respect? The beautiful intricacies of the animation are nothing short of awe-inspiring with immersive worlds. I will concede to the great films that Disney and Pixar make but the other studios can’t hold a candle to the stop motion animation that Laika does, yet they constantly bury the little studio. Again, I look to Kubo to buck that trend, though I am completely prepared for another box office disappointment. My bitter side says that no one learns.
So, what is Kubo And The Two Strings all about? To me, it’s all about identity, destiny and legacy. The film opens with a woman on a boat in the ocean, frantically trying to make it to shore in the middle of a storm. As she is chased down by massive waves, one propels her from her boat, where she washes up on the beach. She scrambles to make it to her package that was on her back with a beetle emblem on it. Within the bag is a baby with a missing eye, her son Kubo. We are then brought into the future as Kubo (Game of Thrones’ Art Parkinson) is now old enough to take care of his mother, who spends most of her day in a sort of catatonic state, staring out at the ocean. Kubo makes the money for him and his mother in the nearby village by telling stories with his guitar which have the magical effect of making the pieces of paper in his pack come alive in origami style to act out the action. It is well known that Kubo has great power within him and the potential to be a hero like his father who he never knew, Hanzo.
Every night, just before the day completely ends Kubo’s mother shakes out of her condition and the two share memories and stories over the dinner that he cooks. Every night ends with his mother giving him the same warning, don’t go out at night. Of course, to further any story exposition, Kubo ends up being out in the dark shortly after and is chased down by two twin women assassins, who are actually his aunts on his mother’s side. Led by Kubo’s grandfather, the man responsible for the death of his father and the one who took his eye, the twins destroy the village and Kubo’s mother has no choice but to send him out of the city with her last magic effort. This last gesture also brings to like the little monkey figurine (Charlize Theron) that Kubo keeps on him at all time, to serve as his guide and protector. Together the two go on a quest to track down a sword, armor and helmet, their only hope in battling their formidable enemies. Along that journey they meet a cursed samurai (Matthew McConaughey), forced to live as a beetle, looking to regain his lost memories and redeem himself.
Within the opening minutes of this film, I was already almost in tears. Like the Pixar film Up, Kubo And The Two Strings hits you immediately with an emotional story of a mother protecting her child and had already lost so much. That parental struggle hit very close to home and, yes, I’m a complete and total mark for that kind of stuff. The charm of this movie is so forefront from that piece on. Art Parkinson leads well as Kubo and Theron channels a bit of that Furiosa harshness into some of her voice work as the driven monkey guardian. Doing his first ever animation voiceover work, at least before Sing comes out later this year, Matthew McConaughey proves that it’s just the mere sound of his vocals that can put the audience in the palm of his hand. Great dialogue and a flowing script that mix some western ideals in an eastern story really make this film excel.
It should be noted that the man behind the film, this time, is Travis Knight, the president, CEO and lead animator for Laika, so, kind of like the Toy Story franchise being headed by Pixar lead guy John Lassiter, Laika is putting everything behind this one and it shows. There is a rich texture to Kubo that bleeds off the screen and envelopes you in the wonder of the world. The theme of family will certainly touch a broad audience willing to open themselves up to this film and the message is beautiful. Then there’s the whole construction of this project which is astounding just to think of and jaw dropping to see when they give you a little glimpse of it in the credits. Seriously, awards are certainly in order, this time maybe more than any other time.
I feel like I’ve just gushed for paragraphs and you, the reader, are thinking “really, enough already.” Well, friend, I don’t even think I’ve even scratched the surface on how much this film meant to me on each level of cinematic love, storytelling and the simple childlike awe of creation. If this film doesn’t find the sizeable audience it deserves, I hope that it one day finds itself in that prestigious group of rediscovered appreciation as people discover what they missed out on. Hell, you could throw Laika’s entire catalog in this department but I feel Kubo And The Two Strings may be the crowning achievement. This is my favorite animated film of 2016 and I give it a five out of five.