Monday 12 September 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings

"You must claim your birth right and give this story a happy ending."

Animation is going through a weird phase right now. Instead of trying to appeal less to their animated audiences it seems that the most successful animation films are making an increased effort to appeal to adult audiences, with Pixar using their deep emotional themes to reach a wider appeal, others like ‘Sausage Party’ aiming squarely at the adult market and studios such as Laika creating stories of such mythic power and outstanding techniques that I defy you to look at the animation on display in ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ and simply dismiss it as kids’ stuff.

A young boy named Kubo (Art Parkinson) sets out on an adventure to find a magical suit of armour, which he needs to defeat an evil spirit from the past. Along the way he is accompanied by two companions, Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) who aid him on his epic quest.

I’ll be honest, ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ left me more conflicted than I thought it would. I’m not conflicted over whether or not to call it a good film, that much I know. My only cause for concern is its story, which not only feels somewhat standard but certain plot elements felt annoyingly contrived. The last few scenes most of all felt very rushed and forced, being unable to sustain the basic pace and structure of the film, choosing instead to deviate radically from both of those established aspects in favour of racing towards the final hurdle and just barely clearing it. This doesn’t necessarily ruin the quality of the animation and whether it was detrimental to the film as a whole is what I’m conflicted over, but if the story was the primary element of the film then I would probably have to be much more critical of the film.

However the weakness of the story is minimised by moving around a few small elements to make the story feel a little fresher than it really is. Firstly, the simple narrative trick of having the main character discover things about themselves and the journey they are undertaking as they go along is more refreshing than just shoving all the exposition at the start as many adventure movies have grown accustomed to. As well as that the character dynamic includes some interesting additions and plot twists that make their adventure seem more personal than a conventional tale of point A to point B, there is a purpose to this that ties into our central character and as a result we get a greater sense of involvement within the story.

But putting all that aside (as this is the most critical I’m going to get with the film) ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is a feat of animation brilliance. Laika’s usual attention to detail and stunning craftsmanship shines through on a whole new level here. Not only is it beautiful to behold but it carries over onto every aspect of the film, from the character design to the set pieces, from the landscapes to the movement of the camera itself the way they use their stop motion is worthy of praise but the fact that they employ such inventive and awe inspiring techniques to achieve the images that they want is even more impeccable.

But as well as their brilliant animation one of the most admirable things about Laika is the themes they choose to tackle in their “kids movies” (when “adult blockbusters” like the DCEU are done being stupidly pretentious they might want to have a look over here and see what that title really means). The film tackles issued pf parentage and legacy, where you begin and where you end, essentially asking their audiences to consider their own mortality and how it influences the decisions we make. On paper it seems like everyone’s worst nightmare in model form, and for some of the films scarier scenes it is, with each threat feeling genuinely real and omnipresent. But the studio carries an aura of hope and humour with it that manages to avoid falling into a pit of despair.

It also helps that the voice cast are all fantastic, with Theron and McConaughey fillinf their role perfectly, as do the supporting cast of Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes and George Takei. In the lead role Art Parkinson embodies a sense of drive and detrmiantion as well as that youthful sense of adventure that embodies this whole process. The characters all have great interaction with one another that not only goes beyond the usual cliché of simply demoting the supporting cast to comic relief, but they all work towards striking the same emotional core that ultimately elevates ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ from a simple heroes’ journey to a poignant and emotional masterclass.

Stunningly animated and emotionally involved, ‘Kubo and the Two String’ overcomes its basic narrative to become a unique and inspiring journey.

Result: 8/10

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