Who would’ve guessed that we’d end up here?
Laika Entertainment came onto the scene with the small scale adapation of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline back in 2009, and since then has proceeded a small number of films to define their brand (four movies in seven years). Yet by some unforeseen miracle, Laika, with only four movies under their belt, are shaping up to be one of the dominant animation studios at work today.
With the excellent follow-up, Paranorman , and their previous film The Boxtrolls , Laika has been rewarding audiences with beautiful animated features that evoke tears in the same way as Pixar but someone managing to blend their gorgeous stop-motion animation into the mix, providing, dare I say, an even more rewarding experience.
That is certainly the case with their latest feature Kubo and the Two Strings , a movie that I am so determined to call a masterpiece but am hesitating to do so out of sheer fear of controversy. The honest truth is, there isn’t a single minute of this latest animated feature that didn’t enrapture me in its snare. Here is a bold, funny, scary, and gorgeously constructed piece of work that rivals some of the very best animated movies of the current decade.
When I say, “Not a single minute,” I mean just that. Even the very first shot of the film (a beautiful shot of the moon in the night sky over oceanic waves crashing in its light) astonishes, with Kubo’s voiceover being sure to keep our focus and not let us look away (he literally says this at some point, and somehow, subconsciously, it works).
The story is what really stands out; a tale that Hayao Miyazaki would write if he were still doing movies today. A young Japanese boy with one eye sets off on an adventure with a monkey and a beetle (funnily enough, named Monkey and Beetle) to battle spirits from the past in ancient Japan. More is involved in the story (I didn’t even mention the Samurai sword or the power of Kubo’s shamisen), but all of it is best experienced if you go in blind. Because so much happens in this movie, and it’s all a treat for the eyes and the heart.
The characters are dynamic, with Kubo (voiced by Game of Thrones’ Art Parkinson) being a terrific central hero that the kids in my audience clearly fell in love with from the beginning, audibly rooting for him in a way which I rejoiced in instead of getting annoyed by. The supporting players are also wonderful, Charlize Theron’s Monkey being the standout and Matthew McConaughey’s Beetle being just as funny.
Speaking of which, it’s imperative to note that while this movie is dark and sometimes scary (the sister spirits are genuinely frightening), Kubo is a very funny and family friendly film with a great appreciation of Japanese culture, a theme usually only explored in Studio Ghibli films.
Laika is proving to be one of the best animation studios working today, in complete and total contrast to Illumination Entertainment (originators of the Minions themselves). Kubo and the Two Strings is, hands down, the best animated movie of 2016 so far, and I can’t see any other one bringing it down. It’s one of the very best of the decade.