Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

“If you must blink… do it now!”

It just serves to prove my theory that bad animated movies can be excused since they’re “for kids” is a cheap cop out meant to let crap pass by us. Animation studios are providing amazing kids fare, including Laika who seemingly snuck out of nowhere to deliver yet another stop motion children’s masterpiece. “Kubo and the Two Strings” is probably their great animated stop motion achievement to date. It’s an immense, epic, and heartfelt ode to the art of storytelling and the power of memories. It’s teeming with fantastic Asian folklore offering a very respectful view of its characters, and creates a wonderful hero who is capable of defeating evil not with his fists or guns, but with magic and his ability to think outside the box.

Watching like a classic Asian legend, Kubo is a young boy who is taken by his mother Sariatu, who flees her kingdom. Her vile father cut his newborn grand son’s eye out, and before he could take the other, she fled for safety. After washing up on shore with her newborn son, Sariatu lives with her preteen son Kubo in a cave overlooking the ocean. Every day Kubo staves off loneliness by heading in to the local village. There he uses his shamisen to bring to life his very own origami figures, all of which unfold an epic tale for the villagers, involving his father, a mystical samurai and his magic armor he used to defeat a monster. Sariatu warns Kubo that he’s allowed to stay out but must return to the cave by dawn. During a ceremony for grieving families who sail lanterns out on to the water in remembrance of those lost, Kubo seeks to honor his father with his own lantern.

But after letting his emotions get the better of him, realizes he’s stayed out too late. Much to his horror, he realizes he’s being stalked by his aunts, two very evil and vile women who seek to bring Kubo back to his grandfather. When Sariatu comes to his rescue and uses the last of her magic against her siblings, Kubo awakens in the middle of nowhere and must seek out his father’s mystical armor and defeat his grandfather and aunts, all with the help of a talking monkey, and an unusual samurai named Beetle. “Kubo and the Two Strings” thrives on delivering an epic tale that is so utterly down to Earth and magical, allowing the audience to become swept up in the tale that unfolds. Art Parkinson is fantastic as young Kubo, a boy who must come of age and strike down his family, all the while being helped by his two guardians, as played by Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey.

Much of the stop motion animation offers a style reminiscent of traditional origami, and Laika is able to develop very complex and rich characters that we instantly root for and hope for the best. The animation behind Monkey is especially superb, as Theron lends the character a unique dimension with her very strong and compelling voice work. Everything about “Kubo and the Two Strings” is rich in substance and ideas, while the director realizes a world where even the villains are immensely hard to peg down. I especially love the Sisters, played with delicious enthusiasm by Rooney Mara, as they hover across bodies of water, draped in black and wearing very horrific No masks.

While some aspects may prove a bit intense for young audiences, Laika is very bold to challenge them in that respect, creating menace in their world that also holds something of a meaning behind them. “Kubo and the Two Strings” is a magnificent piece of filmmaking and family entertainment I’d gladly re-watch a million times before touching “Trolls” or “The Angry Birds Movie” ever again.