Movie #299 2020: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

You know when a movie just takes you completely by surprise? I recorded Kubo and the Two Strings on a whim because I saw it was on Film4. What I did not expect what how joyous it would be.

Kubo and the Two Strings is a fantasy drama by the masterminds at Laika Entertainment. Yes, that’s the same studio who created hits such as Paranorman and Missing Link. This time round, a small Japanese boy named Kubo is the star of his small village. He can enchant origami figures with his magical guitar-like instrument to tell the villagers stories of the past in the most exciting of ways. When he accidentally summons a vengeful spirit, Kubo is forced to go on a quest to solve the mystery of his deceased samurai father and discovers that he has mystical powers of his own.

Let me preface this by saying Kubo is by far the best movie by Laika that I have ever seen. Truly original, unique, and unashamedly doused in Japanese culture, it will come as no surprise that this was twice Oscar-nominated. (Annoyingly losing out to Disney both times. Of course. Eye roll.)

There’s a small gripe to be made here before getting into the nitty gritty of it. Weirdly, there are only two actual Asian actors within this voice cast. I mean, there’s an abundance of people they could have used, so why weren’t they? Charlize Theron is great, but would it have killed them to cast Sandra Oh or Lucy Liu? (Yes, I know they’re Korean and Chinese respectively, but even so.)

Other than that… what a movie.

Though some of the animation is less successful – parts of the stop motion aren’t as seamless as you’d like them to be – all of it is vibrant and beautiful. The cinematography (of the origami sequences especially) is so exciting and fun that I’m not sure I’ve seen such good “camera” angles in an animated movie before. Truly remarkable.

Every character here – especially the no-nonsense monkey – is extremely likeable and that is pivotal to this movie’s success. Despite the plot being quite simple and straightforward, there’s a lot of complexity interwoven into it, with some genuinely terrifying scenes (the two aunts!!??!! my GOD) to coincide with the comedy. Completely interesting and gripping all the way through.

On the subject of plot, this movie deals with loss better than most ”adult” movies do. Simple, moving, and full of heart. If you’ve lost someone, Kubo will hit you right in the chest.

Is this easily the best Laika movie? 100%. I’ve already told you that. Not the box office smash it deserved to be (profiting by a ‘mere’ $17.5 million), that’s for sure.

Kubo and the Two Strings is available to rent on Amazon for £2.49 in the UK – utterly worth the pennies.

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