As always, Laika Entertainment (Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls) have released one of the most beautifully and intricately designed films of the year, this time offering a mythical quest narrative in a sort of conscious, artists’-eye pseudo-Japan. There is much poetry in Kubo’s bizarre journey to find his late father’s armour and all the while tackle – in that wonderfully mature manner the studio have with their young audiences – his own problems.
The film’s biggest issue, though, is in presenting exactly what these problems are. Kubo and his family are dealing with different forms of grief, but this is one of at least three main themes jostling for attention. When we’re splitting our thoughts, with seemingly random logic, between heavy musings on bereavement, original and articulate explorations of love, and an equally strong investigation of creativity, we find ourselves in something of an emotional jumble. And with no single thread to grip onto, the ending loses a lot of its power.
Still, the emotional intelligence is next-level, and the film’s odd structure – punctuated, every other scene, with increasingly irksome expositional monologues of incomparable convolution – is commendable for its dedication to that quintessentially meandering, random structure of the oral narrative. Meanwhile the sheer wonder of the animation, and the decisions that went into each nanosecond, are overwhelming in themselves. Some frames have the clutterless clarity of a dream while others contain hundreds of secret details tripping over each other with breathless excitement; the empathetic Kubo, in short, is a beautiful, touching muddle.
Kubo and the Two Strings needs a tune-up, but it grabs from the start and largely grips thereafter. Strong voice work from a soulful Parkinson, a subtle Theron, and a scene-stealing McConaughey effortlessly convey Laika’s loving melancholy in a fantasy where each emotional beat lands well, if not spectacularly.
CAST: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei
DIRECTOR: Travis Knight
WRITERS: Marc Haimes & Chris Butler (screenplay), Marc Haimes & Shannon Tindle (story)
SYNOPSIS: A creative young boy named Kubo must locate a magical suit of armour, worn by his late father, in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past.