Sunday 18 September 2016

'Kubo and the Two Strings' Review: Don't Blink

It's been out for a while in the United States, but that's the chaotic worldwide release schedule for you: Kubo and the Two Strings is only being released in some European countries now, and as a result our review is pretty late, and everything (or close) has already been said on the film. Still, because we think Kubo is a terrific film we'll consider it's not too late, shall we? If you must blink, do it now; then consider reading our spoiler-free review below.

Kubo and the Two Strings is the fourth film from LAIKA, the Oregon-based stop-motion studio already responsible for Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012) and The Boxtrolls (2014). Travis Knight makes his directorial debut on a screenplay by Marc Haimes and ParaNorman writer/co-director Chris Butler.

The story is about the titular character Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson), a boy who goes on a quest through ancient Japan to find a magical armor. He is joined in his adventure by a talking monkey (Charlize Theron), a beetle (Matthew McConaughey) and an origami samourai. They'll have to face monsters, giant eyes, twin sisters… And we'll leave it at that - a brief, vague and weird description of the plot - in order to not spoil the many surprises the story of Kubo entails.

Just the once will not hurt: I'll start with what I think the one flaw of this movie is - and I'm not even sure it's really a flaw. Kubo and the Two Strings starts pretty slowly, and feeds us a lot of exposition in the first twenty minutes or so. The good thing is, most of the time the exposition is told in an entertaining way. The best example of this being Kubo telling the tale of the armor he'll soon be looking for: he doesn't just narrate; he plays a magical shamisen that brings his origami figures to life. The sequence then becomes a crazy, funny, charming action scene that still gives us informations; set-ups that will later pay-off in a big way (don't blink or you'll miss something important, as Kubo will tell you himself).
So yep. That was the flaw of Kubo and the Two Strings.

Maybe thanks to this beginning where a lot of informations is coming our way, the rest of the movie is as perfectly paced as it can be. The rhythm never slows down, going from action scene to characterization to a reveal. The plot keeps moving forward, with twists that are not always there to shock you, but more to participate to a deeper message to the film; much like in ParaNorman (which shares a writer - Butler - with Kubo, coincidentally).
The characters are funny, but there's also something about them that feels real, sincere. In the end, the film is not as hilarious as it is poignant.
Don't blink, unless you want your eyelids to push a few tears down your cheeks.

The animation is as good or better as it's ever been in any stop-motion film. LAIKA outdid themselves once again, with gorgeous sets and a cinematography that would make most live-action filmmakers jealous. The blending of stop-motion with CGI is subtle and most importantly, the action scenes are insane. Just. Insane.
Again, don't blink; otherwise you'll miss an epic moment.

In conclusion, let's just say this movie is pretty much flawless (it's not everyday that a flaw is almost a strength, isn't it?). It gives you crazy action, powerful emotions, wonderful animation, a great score… And it needs to make more money than it's currently making. Bring your friends and family, we can almost guarantee you'll not regret it. In short, don't turn your back, don't look away, and don't blink.
Just like for Zootopia earlier this year, we have to give Kubo and the Two Strings a perfect score.

Rating: 10/10

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