Movie Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

Stop-motion animation is a dying art. With the onset of computer-generated effects, the meticulous nature of the process is on the way out with very few movies seeing the light of day. Robot Chicken is thankfully still on air, but a humble 11-minute insanity fest is nothing compared to a feature-length film. That being said, the lack of stop-motion media because the process is so intensive makes those that do come out all the more special. Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, and Coraline came out years apart and I remember them like it was yesterday. Is Kubo and the Two Strings another great stop-motion movie or is CG the way of the future (always no)?

To settle a family feud Kubo, played by Art Parkinson, sets out on a journey to acquire an unbreakable sword and a set of ancient armor. A serious Monkey, played by Charlize Theron, and an amnesiac Beetle, played by Matthew McConaughey, joins him along the way.

Expressive stop-motion, like expressive CG, has a similar overdesigned aesthetic between each film. The characters in Corpse Bride and Coraline are bug-eye mutants because it is easier to show emotion in their faces compared smaller, realistic features. Everything else about the movies is designed according to a style built upon that aesthetic.

The style of Kubo is distinctly Japanese with a ton of historical and fantasy elements. The titular main character looks like Jubei Yagyu, Monkey is a snow monkey, and Beetle’s body is similar to samurai armor. Then there is the Shinto-like mythology, feudal era clothing, and origami magic taken right from Read or Die. I could go on and on about the little things I found watching.

Since Kubo is from the same people behind Coraline, the animation is flawless. In addition to frighteningly smooth stop-motion there are CG enhancements to what could not be done by hand. These effects, however, are limited. One standout was an old woman character with this detailed face that works as well as the rest. Then there is Monkey whose mouth extends outwards and the lips move around her jaws.

The voice acting adds a lot to the rather simplistic story. McConaughey has a great comedic turn while Theron keeps the movie grounded with her seriousness. Parkinson, who plays Rickon on Game of Thrones, carried the film from beginning to end as he was transformed by the story’s events. Rooney Mara played a great villain as The Sisters and the rest of the cast did considerably well despite having only a couple lines.

Stop-motion animation is practical effects on steroids. The amount of work that goes into a minute of footage is indescribable and the end result is beautiful. Any movie with stop-motion deserves your attention, both old and new. Kubo and the Two Strings is a reminder that practical effects are still incredible and it must be seen immediately.

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