Dazzling Animation Makes Up for an Uneven Story
It would prove difficult to find a film, animated or otherwise, that can match the ‘tour de force’ visual performance in 2016’s Kubo and the Two Strings. The newest addition from animation studio Laika (Coraline, Paranorman); Kubo and the Two Strings tells a bittersweet coming-of-age tale of young Kubo in an eye-popping package of color and stop-motion.
Director Travis Knight’s directorial debut brings an elegance never before seen in the stop-motion medium. While much of this film – the character design, medium texturization, and coloring vibrancy can be attributed to the studio at large; the scene progressions and camera framing that set Kubo apart are very much Travis Knight’s doing.
The intricacies and development of each scene layout, along with camera positioning and scene framing typically seen only in live-action, brings a level of sophistication unparalleled in animation. Stop-motion films have often relied on the limiting aspects of the medium as an excuse to beg for leniency from their audience. The established axiom goes…stop-motion films can provide great stories, and they will offer amazing animation; just don’t expect Hollywood level scene evolution – it’s not feasible within the constrains of stop motion animation. Kubo and the Two Strings breaks through that barrier; creating nuanced, visionary scenes through camera placement and added special effects. The Academy Awards saw this technical achievement clearly; and for only the second time, nominated an animated film for Best Visual Effects.
The brilliance doesn’t end with Kubo’s technical accomplishments. The characters of Kubo are both interesting and worthwhile to the story, visually stunning, and brought to life by solid voice acting. Each character has his/her moments, and each character design was carefully considered. The animators exude confidence, seen in the eye-catching looks of Matthew McConaughey’s goofy ‘Beetle’, Charlize Theron’s maternal ‘Monkey’, and Ralph Fiennes’ evil ‘Moon King.’ The standout among the voice cast is Rooney Mara as Kubo’s evil twin aunts – Karasu and Washi. Rooney Mara’s icy delivery works in lock step with the floating, ghoulish twins Karasu and Washi.
If Kubo and the Two Strings has any faults, it lies with the story. Kubo‘s premise sets up well enough in the first 10-15 minutes, but a confusing and muddled plot wanders in the second and third acts; and audiences may feel lost at times. The dazzling visuals are worth experiencing, but some filmgoers may question the writing choices. Most notably, questions will surface about the abrupt ending without a just conclusion for the evil Moon King.
- Animation: 10/10 – The pinnacle of stop-motion technical achievement
- Scene Progression: 10/10 – Succeeds in pushing the boundaries of the medium’s constraints
- Voicework: 9/10 – A smart, star-studded voice team
- Screenwriting: 5/10 -While Kubo aims for thought-provoking, it misses the mark with convoluted plot choices
8/10 – Kubo and the Two Strings has raised the bar for stop-motion animation with a flawless technical performance; but falls short with an uneven and convoluted story.