For those of you who grew up watching Pingu and Chicken Run, Kubo and the two strings will bring back sweet memories. Kubo pushes the stop-motion category to a completely new level. For the uninitiated, stop-motion is like watching a puppet-show without strings – its a whole world of miniature figurines which are moved slowly to capture incremental changes in motion through the camera. Considering your usual CGI-animation, stop-motion is way more work and sweat. It is Travis Knight’s directorial venture (CEO of Laika, the production house and son of owner of Laika, Phil Knight) and he creates a powerful story, pushing boundaries like never before in stop-motion.
Plot and Script (P&S)
It is clear that Knight has taken inspiration from legendary film makers like Akira Kurosawa and others. Kubo is a simple enough story set in the samurai land and feels like a folklore that we all have heard. The innocent boy, the hero, who sets on a quest to avenge his father’s death with his two friends – Monkey and Beetle without realizing that they are his parents, well almost. The Moon King, Kubo’s grandfather, loses his daughter to Hanzo (Kubo’s father) and the king and his other two daughters set out to kill Kubo’s family. What follows is an epic battle of an under-dog and a powerful nemesis, shown in the most beautiful way.
I am a big fan of animation and love the really creative concepts that are shown in animation. From a vegetarian shark (Shark Tale) to providing electricity with a child’s screams/laughs (Monster’s Inc) are all concepts that have really shown that each animated movie is just another powerful story to be told. That is my only little issue with Kubo – it seems like a very simple story and not too innovative. But considering the limitation they had with this format, I can’t complain too much.
Characterization and Acting (C&A)
I really liked the characters. There was magic in each one of them, like literally. The monkey (Charlize Theron) and the beetle (Matthew McConaughey) were just awesome and their chemistry, brilliant. The evil sisters, voiced by Roony Mara were perfect – dark witches who are so evil that they won’t spare even their sister’s son. The moon king, who was the ultimate villain was a little anti-climactic for me, I expected him to be a little more sinister and his objective of killing the family a little more evil. But other than that, all characters did their part and added to the magic of the story.
Here are some images from behind the scenes and the intricate details of how the characters were made in miniature.
Sounds and Effects (S&E)
The music is so melancholic, it draws you in. I loved the string play that Kubo does every once in a while, really feels like you are in the story. Can’t say much here, I liked it all.
Cinematography and Visuals (C&V)
The look of the movie was just great – the characters, the long drawn action sequences (extremely difficult in stop-motion) and the surroundings were just awesome. The tiny village, the sea and the home that was once Kubo’s are just perfect setting to a visual treat that Kubo and the two strings is. Some of my best sequences were with the enchanted origami paper – they were just brilliant. It reminded of Ninjai, the little Ninja – a web based animation that also tells the story of a young samurai.
The editing could have been a wee-bit sharper as sometimes I didn’t understand a couple of things.
Direction and Overall (D &O)
I think Travis Knight and Laika did a stupendous job with this movie. After reading about how difficult it is doing stop-motion, I am more respectful for this format and appreciate the beauty of some of the sequences more. The film is a little long and does slow down in a couple of spots so that is something that not everyone will enjoy.
So here are my scores according to my new system:
Plot and Script (P&S)- 1.5
Characterization and Acting (C&A) – 1.5
Sounds and Effects (S&E) – 2.0
Cinematography and Visuals (C&V) – 1.5
Direction and Overall (D &O) – 1.5
Overall Score – 8.5 out of 10
Kubo is not everyone’s cup of tea but I urge you to watch it once for the innocence, the power of a visual story and the deep spiritual connection and conviction that the characters have – great for all ages.
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