Laika Studios have been responsible for some of the more offbeat animated family movies of late, the high point thus far being Coraline. Kubo and the Two Strings continues that tradition in style with this superbly poignant fairy tale, my favourite animated film so far this year.
A young boy named Kubo lives reclusively with his ailing mother in a cave by the sea. Using a magical instrument that brings his origami characters to life, he earns his keep telling stories in the local village. One night evil supernatural forces from his mother’s past return to seek revenge. Subsequently Kubo finds himself on a quest to locate a magical suit of armour worn by his late father, with a talking monkey, a samurai transformed into a beetle, and an origami soldier for company.
Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Brenda Vaccaro and Art Parkinson all contribute fine vocal performances. The story is unhurried but never boring, striking the right balance between sombre, surreal, comic and thrilling. Director Travis Knight and his animation department ensure every frame is achingly beautiful, whether it’s fields of sun-soaked grass, a boat of leaves on a stormy ocean, a flock of origami birds or a giant magical skeleton. Speaking of which, in the great tradition of children’s films that do not patronise their target audience, Kubo and the Two Strings rightly pushes the PG envelope in terms of scary scenes, as well as embracing darker themes such as coming to terms with bereavement.
Some more right-wing Christian reviewers have complained that the film promotes Eastern mysticism over a Judeo-Christian worldview, but if so then it does that very superficially. Much more to the fore are positive themes of good versus evil, sacrifice, forgiveness, the importance of memory and the power of love to overcome evil – all of which Christians should have no issue with. Also, even if one is bringing one’s children up with a Christian worldview (as indeed I am, and unapologetically so), it is foolishness to be paranoid about exposing children to fairy tales based around non-Judeo Christian worldviews (in this case, the Buddhist tradition of praying to one’s departed ancestors). Rather than react with prohibition and thus generate forbidden fruit curiosity, I prefer engagement and educated discussion so these beliefs can be understood and contrasted with that of mythology and folklore based in the Judeo-Christian tradition, whilst still enjoying what is simply a terrific story.
Such spiritual hand-wringing aside, Kubo and the Two Strings is ultimately a surprisingly moving film for all ages. It is drenched in memorable imagery, so see it on the big screen whilst you can (sadly it hasn’t done very well at the box office).
0h – and it’s worth sticking around through the end credits to make sure you don’t miss a timelapse shot of the animators preparing a key sequence from the film, providing a fascinating snapshot into the painstaking work behind stop-motion animation.