DVD Movie Review: Kubo and the Two Strings (Lights, Camera, Action!)

By Drew Hurley 12.01.2017 2

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Kubo and the Two Strings (UK Rating: PG)

Stop motion studio, LAIKA, has produced some real gems already, from the dark fantasy of Coraline from Neil Gaiman, to the zombie movie for kids, ParaNorman, and the adaptation of Alan Snow's "Here be Monsters!" as The Boxtrolls. Each one of these films had something that made it feel truly special, and every one received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Film, amongst a host of other award nominations and wins, from BAFTAs to Golden Globes. This latest work from LAIKA is its most ambitious to date and sees the studio taking on an original Japanese fairytale. Kubo and the Two Strings is available now on digital download formats, and will land on DVD and Blu-ray from 16th January.

Young Kubo has a difficult start to his life. While still in swaddling, his grandfather, "The Moon King," tears his left eye from his head and takes his father from him. While fleeing for their lives, the pair is run down while crossing the seas and left shipwrecked. Despite all this, mother and son manage to escape and build a life together on this quaint island. A few years later and Kubo, as a young boy, has become the provider for the duo. His mother's memories and sanity are slowly drifting away, but brave Kubo looks after her, travelling to the small nearby village and telling the stories his mother told him - using a little origami and a little magic to put on amazing scenes before rushing back before dark to care for his mother, and always before dark. His mother's warnings of her evil sisters coming to get him and take his other eye constantly haunt his steps.

The first time Kubo disobeys his mother, disaster strikes. He stays out into the night to take part in the Obon Festival, hoping to speak with his departed father and, just as his mother warned, his family finally tracks him down. His aunts arrive to try and take his other eye for their father, destroying everything in their path as they do so. Kubo flees and is soon living out the songs and stories he once told. He must gather the three magical pieces of armour and succeed where his father failed, stopping The Moon King once and for all.

Compared to the dark works that have come before, this is very much a grand fantasy adventure. Kubo makes a great trek across the world with his companions, taking on big dangers and hunting down the artefacts from his father's life. His companions are certainly unique: an overbearing monkey with attitude and a former disciple of Kubo's father, and a giant beetle/human samurai with amnesia. Kubo doesn't have to rely on his companions, though; he isn't exactly a defenceless little boy, as he inherited some of his mother's magic, and when playing her Shamisen (a three-string guitar-like instrument from Japan) he can control paper, bringing little origami creations to life in fantastical ways. This makes for some visually spectacular moments; in particular, Kubo's retelling of his father's adventures using a little origami samurai version of his father is great. Watching the little origami samurai cutting various origami creatures to pieces, its sword slashing through them and spraying red confetti in a stylish flourish, is a joy to behold.

The stop-motion style is something rarely seen anymore and it looks absolutely phenomenal. LAIKA has done something completely new with this latest movie; it's definitely its most ambitious yet, creating a huge action film in stop motion - the scale of this movie is crazy. The extra features on the disc give a glimpse behind the curtain and show just how some of the sets and creations come about. It's mind blowing. The centrepieces are, of course, the big "boss battles," with some frankly amazing practical effects. The "Garden of Eyes" mashes up Lovecraft and the Sarlacc pit as LAIKA combines animatronics and hypnotic light tricks for a uniquely chilling creature, and then takes puppets to the extreme with a titanic skeletal guardian, a puppet so huge it required a team to make its tiny movements and only a handful of frames a day taken. What makes this movie special, though, aren't just the big set pieces, it's also the dedication to every little detail. The filmmakers spent a great amount of time learning all about Japanese culture and bringing in cultural experts to make everything feel so very authentic and it's this care and dedication that really shines through in the quality of the end product.

It's not just the crew of LAIKA that made magic here, as the voices behind the cast also do a sterling job. The protagonist Kubo is played by Art Parkinson, likely best known as Rickon Stark from Game of Thrones, and his guardians, Monkey and Beetle, are voiced by Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughy, respectively. Every great adventure needs a suitably chilling villain, too, and here Ralph Fiennes gets to practice that as the antagonistic Moon King (look out for him taking a very different VO role in the upcoming LEGO Batman movie as Alfred soon!). There is something of a negative here, however, since as good as they are, this is a very Japanese story and yet the best Japanese actors are relegated to bit parts as townsfolk. George Takei and Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa have just a handful of lines each, for instance. There is always the need for big stars to sell the film and anti-whitewashers will say that there are few big Asian stars in Hollywood who can sell a film like this anymore, but it's just a shame.

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10
Kubo and the Two Strings is a visually stunning and fantastically grand adventure. The word epic is thrown around far too much these days, but it is more than justified here. It is a truly epic undertaking by LAIKA and certainly its best movie to date. While not as dark as some of its past works, this is still hard hitting and full of emotion. An amazing movie that kids and parents alike will adore and hopefully the one that will finally bring LAIKA its long overdue Academy Award!

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Saw this in the cinema and there is just so much that's perfect.
It felt like the best bits of a ghibli film, mixed with zelda game, while being totally its own thing too.
So much imagination, and so unlike anything else in cinema. Its so wonderfull things like this still get made.

Also; Particularly fantastic job on CG. CG rarely gets praised when its good - because it isnt noticed - but here it was utterly seamless with the stopmotion.

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Well, finally got round to watching this and...well, the first 45 minutes were boring, extremely slow build up but without much direction, and then it finally kicked things up a notch for about 30 minutes after that, but still nothing really attention grabbing...and then it faded out with saccharine family stuff. No, sorry, this doesn't surpass the amazing Coraline at all, I reckon, or even Corpse Bride, for that matter.

It doesn't really matter how good the work that LAIKA does - if the story's wishy-washy then it goes to waste. Coraline had the benefit of Neil Gaiman's excellent writing behind it, and Corpse Bride had that typical Tim Burton charm. This looked good, but lacked substance.

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