By: Mark Farmer, Entertainment Writer
Laika’s Kubo and the Two Strings was released into theaters this past August, starring Art Parkinson as the titular character, who is thrust into a long adventure where he learns more about his lineage, all while on the run from his anxious captors.
Doesn’t that sound a little… bland? Not terribly exciting, eh? I had never heard of this film until long after it left theaters. Only after it was nominated for two Academy Awards (including the first time an animated film had been nominated for Best Visual Effects in over twenty years) did I realize I’d missed out on a fantastic film. Even still, I put off seeing it for a long while; From the outside, this movie just seems very uninteresting.
This is the biggest flaw of Kubo– It’s near-unmarketable. This fantastic feature garnered plenty of praise from critics and audiences, but just barely made enough at the box office to cover its budget. In fact, this is Laika’s lowest-grossing film yet (their previous works being The Boxtrolls, ParaNorman, and Coraline). The film’s difficult-to-describe plot and convoluted characters make it hard to sell to moviegoers. Unlike other animation studios like Pixar or Disney, the Laika name doesn’t have much relevance to audiences.
The good news is that, regardless of its box office performance, Kubo and the Two Strings is a fantastic movie that reminded me all about the magic of movies. The Laika crew has created a beautiful-looking film with a wonderful cast and a great script. This very unique film presents a heartfelt moral that, while simplistic, filled me with the kind of warm fuzzies that only movies can.
First, it’s important to note that Kubo and the Two Strings is a stop-motion animated film, much like the rest of Laika’s films. The amount of time, effort, and care that goes into these works is wildly impressive, and also really captivating to watch- So much so, that the film ends with a few short behind-the-scenes clips. Many sequences seem to truly push the limits of the medium, forcing the audience to question just how each set could have possibly been crafted. This is no ruse, however- During production, the team created a 16-foot, 400-pound puppet (which they claim is the largest stop-motion puppet ever built). It’s clear that Laika went above-and-beyond in creating this stop-motion epic.
That being said, Kubo looks so incredible that the movie seems to look and feel just as a CGI-animated feature does. It brings forward the question: Why spend more time, money, and effort to make a film visually similar to the cheaper, more popular medium? From a distributor’s standpoint, it may seem like a waste of funding to simply release the film and say, “By the way, this was really hard to make, so hopefully that means you’ll enjoy it more.” But, from a production company’s standpoint, this work is their life, and it’s what they love. The sculptors, set dressers, and animators all love this medium and don’t want to leave- Stop-motion animation is their passion. Even if it seems like a waste of time or money, funding that passion will help create great art.
Kubo and the Two Strings is great art. It is short and simple, but it is elegant and beautiful. It does not go much farther beyond its premise, but it is wonderful and fun. The voice cast is stellar, and the roles they serve are terrifically cast. Each environment the trio discover is filled with depth and wonder, while each action sequence is quick and exciting. Kubo may not be groundbreaking, nor does it shatter any boundaries, but it does what it sets out to do, and does it very, very well. While it may not seem like the most exciting film, I do hope that those with any remote interest in it give the movie a shot- It’s well worth its rather short running time.