Saturday, November 5, 2016


Kubo (Art Parkinson), a young, one-eyed boy living in a small village in a fairy-tale-like Asian land, embarks on a journey with Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) to find an ancient sword, helmet and armor in order to defeat his aunts and grandfather who have become cold evil spirits, seeking Kubo's second eye and who Kubo's mother turned against in the past.

Having in the past not thoroughly enjoyed Laika's past efforts like ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls (for story reasons), Kubo and the Two Strings comes in as a definite improvement on them, with a far more touching narrative which adds a brilliant tribute to Asian cinema, even though some of the story problems I had in the past still emerge from this animated beauty.

I think no one in their right mind would argue the beauty of what unfolds on screen, and I have never done so with Laika's features. The fact is that this isn't simply beautiful animation, this is Pixar quality visuals. The frame does not feel limited, it just explodes with richness in detail and color, giving every single picture an overwhelming beauty which always is there to serve the story. There isn't unwarranted visual extravaganza, nor silly gags inserted to keep the kids awake, every frame is thought out to serve the story and homage both Asian live action and animated cinema. Moreover, when we are served gags and comedy, they are worked brilliantly into the picture. Overall this is simply one of the most beautiful canvases I have seen on the silver screen, especially because of the evocative animation which truly goes to touch emotional chords and isn't spectacular just for the sake of it.

Similarly touching are some of the story elements introduced by the narrative and in equal measure the way in which they are brought to life. The story most definitely has a fairy tale structure and it manages to do some interesting things with the medium. The family intrigue brings a variety of different emotions and themes to the table in the likes of motherhood, loneliness, lost-love, growing up, and a poignant spin on the hero's adventure. The design of the characters is incredibly rich and the two aunts in the film were probably the biggest highlight of it: they were legitimately scary and their spectral presence was just a delightfully spooky touch which really brought to the forefront the fantastic art direction this film can boast. And finally, the icing on the cake here was a magnificent score which just as the animation and the characters, homages Asian culture in the perfect measure making it very nostalgic and gut wrenching at times, yet fitting the emotional beats of the story wonderfully.

Where, unfortunately, some of this incredible magic is lost is in the narrative for me. Whilst the majority of the story beats work, almost none of the plot is fluent. Whilst I get the poetic license one can use to move along in a fairy-tale, I found this too be way blown out of proportion. The plot just takes wild steps in every direction and, by that, many of the stakes are lowered and many of the emotional beats, especially in the ending, lose a lot of gravitas even though they bear a touching message. It is a pity because a lot of the film suffers from lowered stakes and emotion because of this, leaving the pleasure of the experience more on an aesthetic level rather than an emotional one. Anyways, what ultimately matters is that Laika has produced a diverse film, with unique touches and characters that ultimately left me with a satisfying experience.

James' Score: 7/10

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