Featuring Voices By: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara
Directed By: Travis Knight
Written By: Marc Haimes & Chris Butler, from a story by Shannon Tindle & Marc Haimes
PG; 101 minutes
5 stars (out of 5)
Laika is steadily building its reputation and brand after Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and now Kubo and the Two Strings. They're known for visually interesting work. ParaNorman and Boxtrolls were a bit lighter in tone (if not color), but Kubo is closer to Coraline in overall feel.
The story is set in ancient China. Kubo lives with his mother and earns his daily bread by telling stories in the village and using magic to have origami creatures act the stories out. But the story he's telling—it's like an ongoing saga—is rooted in his own life and that of his mother and dead father. Kubo gets the story piecemeal from his mother who sometimes cannot remember things. And so Kubo himself does not know what is true and what is fiction.
He finds out when his mother's sisters come to try and steal his eye. Kubo's grandfather is the Moon King and wants to take Kubo's eye to make him blind to humanity. I'll admit I had to try and explain the motivations to my kids afterward; it felt a bit abstract. But otherwise, it's an engaging, beautifully lyrical story. It has a fair amount of humor (though at times it feels like the writers were trying too hard with Beetle's lines, and Matthew McConaughey seemed to be channeling Tim Allen circa Buzz Lightyear). Still, there is a gentle growth of love and friendship amongst the characters that is very well done. Kudos to them, since that's one of the most difficult things to develop in a film.
Yes, some of the turns were a tad predictable. But that didn't detract from the overall story or my enjoyment. This is probably my favorite of the Laika movies; I'd have to go watch Coraline again to be certain. My kids roundly proclaimed it their favorite. My savvy 10-year-old wondered aloud how it will stand up to Zootopia come awards season. Both films are so good in very different ways. It will be interesting to see how things play out.