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Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

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Kubo and the Two Strings is the fourth instalment from the fantastic Studio Laika, who brought us the wonderous Paranorman, Coraline and more recently The Boxtrolls. They are the magicians of stop-motion filmmaking and Kubo and the Two Strings continues this trend.

What has been always great about Studio Laika films is the fantastic stories behind them. From Paranorman’s excellent twist on the zombie tale to The Boxtroll’s tale about conformity in society. Kubo and the Two Strings takes pleasure in the art of storytelling through Kubo and his magic guitar.

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The film opens in spectacular animated fashion with sprawling waves crashing down on a dishevelled looking ship, until a strum of the guitar chord splits the wave. This opening sequence all but sets the tone for the beautiful animation being shown.

Kubo and the Two Strings takes the art of storytelling to another level as Kubo (Art Parkinson) possesses a great skill in storytelling, which he does everyday in the nearby village. He tells the story of an age-old legendary warrior Hanzo and his fight against the Moon King. To defeat the fabled Moon King, Hanzo has to assembled the three pieces of armour scattered throughout the lands. Unfortunately for the townspeople, Kubo can never finish the story because Hanzo never defeated the Moon King and he still rules supreme.

What is revealed about Kubo is that he and his mother are on the run from an age-old family battle between them and Kubo’s grandfather. (who is actually the very same fabled Moon King) To evade capture, Kubo promises his mother to make sure he’s back before sundown.

During a festival in the village, Kubo finds himself out after sundown, which brings forth his evil Aunties (Rooney Mara) sporting some rather sinister masks. As he becomes trapped, his mother rescues him and sends him to the Far Lands with the last of her magic. Kubo awakes in this world by Monkey (Charlize Theron) who tells him he must retrieve the three legendary pieces of armour.  Kubo and Monkey cross paths with Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) who helps them as he believes Kubo to be a descendant of his master.

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Much like Coraline, this film can be looking quite menacing at times, especially in the fight sequences between the evil Aunties and the hero group, but it still makes the film enjoyable with the perfect touch of darkness in these scenes. Although the film is a family-orientated adventure, Matthew McConaughey and Charlize Theron have back and forth as Beetle and Monkey, which provides laughs and balances out the darker sequences in the film.

Although the film never does reveal where it is set, the costumes and sets reveal more than enough, but what really worked for me was the music. When Kubo wasn’t playing on his three-stringed guitar and making the paper dance around the screen and evolve to his will, the music had a certain far-eastern twang to it and worked excellently throughout the film.

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Although Travis Knight has worked previously animated the other Studio Laika features, Kubo and the Two Strings mark his directorial debut and my, what an excellent job he has done.  Knight has comfortable created the best Laika film to date and it comes down to everything coming together to creating an intriguing story that is backed every step of the way from the superb casting choice, the beautiful set designs and the music. What reigns supreme though is the superb animation, from Kubo’s facial expressions to the terrifying finale sequences featuring a menacing Ralph Fiennes.

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Author: Nathan Harris

Currently studying Film & Television studies and Media Writing at Derby University. Hopefully wanting to become a film critic/journalist.

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