Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) movie poster

director  Travis Knight

Laika Studios has become my favorite feature animation studio of present times.  Their first feature Coraline (2009) quickly became one of my favorite films, and while none of the ensuing other three features have quite achieved that film’s perfection, Kubo and the Two Strings, like 2014’s Boxtrolls is a very beautiful and wonderful fantasy feature.

It’s an original story, an under-valued commodity in mainstream film, set in a pseudo-Japanese fantasy world in which a boy, Kubo, and his mother hide out from a pair of evil aunties and a vengeful grandfather.  They wind up on a quest to find a sword, helmet and armor that will magically protect the boy.

The Asian-ness of the characters, design and story aren’t problematic for me, but I’m curious how they are read by others.  The Japanese-ness is very much baked into the designs and themes and the figures are stylized.  And though they are stylized and beautifully rendered, notably so, these would-be Asian characters are largely voiced by a non-Asian cast.  It’s easy to imagine that there is some backlash or criticism available here.

I’m not sure how I feel about it exactly, but the choices for the story, character designs, and castings were all conscious ones.

Overall, though, the film is beautiful, rendered in part, I’ve heard, through CGI, not exclusively stop-motion puppets.  The story and characters are compelling and I quite liked it.

My kids and I discussed our rankings of Laika films after watching it.  We all agreed Coraline is the best, though Kubo and Boxtrolls might swap positions.  We’ll see.

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