Laika have established themselves as the leading purveyors of the modern cinematic fairy tale. I guess they got the bug for it after producing Coraline, based on the work of the leading purveyor of the modern literary fairy tale, Neil Gaiman.
Since Coraline, Laika have knocked every film out of the park, with Paranorman and Boxtrolls each becoming instant cult hits, as well as garnering a mass of critical acclaim to boot.
It’s with great pleasure then, that I can confirm Kubo and the Two Strings is their masterpiece. It is a tale in the truest sense of the word; feeling like an old legend passed down through hundreds of ears and eyes to arrive fully formed. It is a story about the importance of stories, and more than that, the importance of memory.
Kubo is a young boy, fatherless and protected by a fearful mother in the hills of what visually appears to be Japan, but has a timeless, otherworldly quality to it. Kubo’s mum must stop The Moon King and his two evil daughters from ensnaring Kubo and spiriting him to a cold and dark realm, from where he will be forced to enact countless terrors as an immortal and darkly magic entity. Of course not all goes to plan, and soon Kubo finds himself on a great quest to collect three artefacts which will keep him safe.
There’s a lot more to it than that, but it would be spoiling the magic and majesty of the film to say any more. Sufficed to say you’ve never seen anything quite like this before. The tropes might be recognisable and the story beats a little predictable, but as with any good story, it’s all in the telling.
I guess the great privilege of working for a studio such as Laika, is the time it takes to create anything at all. Stop-motion cannot be rushed, and I’m sure you all know the stats about it taking days to animate just a few seconds. So Laika, whilst not able to churn a lot of content out, are able to spend time perfecting their stories and carefully selecting every frame for maximum impact. I guess that’s why they achieve perfection so readily. Because of this the story feels like it has breathing space. The characters are fleshed out and the invented mythos is easy to comprehend despite being a large mouthful to digest.
Another thing Laika are renowned for is their choice of composers, and here they have collaborated again with the outstanding Dario Marianelli (Atonement, V for Vendetta) to magnificent effect. This is most likely my score of the year, and its commitment to both authenticity and mysticism makes it truly special.
I’m gushing. I know it. I’m chucking out every superlative in the book. But this is worth it. There are several moments in Kubo and the Two Strings that literally took my breath away. There is light and dark, and there is every shade in between. For my money Laika are right at the peak of animation, perhaps even nudging ahead of Pixar.
You need to see Kubo. And you need to ensure any children you know do exactly the same. Someone just give Travis Knight and the Laika team enough money to do this for the rest of ever. That will do me just fine.