Stop-motion animation has always been my favorite kind of animation. Not only is it unparalleled in the field when it comes to sheer labor and hard work, but I also think it’s the most beautiful. Everything is so meticulously crafted to bring these stunning characters and worlds to life, that it all has such a vibrant, lifelike quality to it. Laika Entertainment, the top dogs (no pun intended) when it comes to stop-motion animation, pumps out yet another engaging, gorgeous picture that will join the ranks with their other greats, like Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls. Kubo and the Two Strings is Laika once again flexing their muscles as the best of the best in film animation. Yes, not just in the stop-motion realm, but in all of film animation.

In ancient Japan, young boy Kubo (Art Parkinson) lives with his mother (Charlize Theron) in a cave, high up on a mountain. Every morning he runs down to the local village and tells the citizens an epic story about a valiant hero on a quest to vanquish an evil villain. Once dusk approaches, Kubo must retreat back to his cave, due to his mother instilling in him fear of his evil grandfather, who will come and take him away. One fateful night, Kubo doesn’t return in time and as evil forces come for him, he must embark on his own epic quest to defeat the evil.

Laika has always been one to impress, especially in the animation department. Credit must be given to their CEO, here turned debut director, Travis Knight, who shows he really knows how to direct a stop motion film. There’s so much detail that gives so much life to these little creations. The landscape shots are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen in any film, animated or not. Backgrounds are packed with many different characters, all performing various tasks. Rice falls from a pair of chopsticks and slides down somebody’s cheek. You can really sense all of the hard work and soul that went into making it all seem so real. When you witness an intense, highly choreographed fight scene that had to be carefully animated frame by frame, it’s no wonder it took them five years to make! Although the animation sometimes drifted into somewhat of an uncanny valley territory, it’s still so impressively done that you can’t help but be drawn in. A lot of the style is very Japanese inspired, with everything having an almost ancient origami quality to it. This really added to the overall setting and tone. It’s evident that everybody’s heart and soul went into making this film truly one of a kind. While all of Laika’s films use the same animation techniques, every film they make feels different from the last.

Another one of Laika’s strong suits, and what I think puts them above every other animation studio (yes, even Pixar), is that they never treat children like they’re dumb. They’re smart enough to realize that children don’t need explosive action or immature fart jokes every five minutes in order to be interested. All you need is a good story with good characters. This is also helped by the fact is that they don’t make films for children, but for everyone. Yes, their stories are simplistic, but their themes and pathos throughout them can resonate with both young and old. The film gets surprisingly melancholy at times, with themes of dealing with loved ones passing on, family dilemmas, and much more, but it’s those moments that really elevate the film above its average screenplay. While I was thoroughly engaged, a lot of the plot progression and story elements felt very contrived, underdeveloped, and predictable. The pacing also felt a bit too rushed, especially near the end with a climax and antagonist I wasn’t completely on board with. However, when the heart is all there and the story is engaging, these are only minor shortcomings.

Laika once again proves why they’re the current juggernauts in cinematic animation. Not only are you getting some of the most breathtaking animation around, but you’re also getting an engaging, heartfelt story with fun characters, and creative action sequences that can be enjoyed by all ages. While there was a bit to be desired in the writing and storytelling departments, all of the positive aspects are universal and relatable enough for people to be engaged. There’s no overtly adult humor to pander to us old curmudgeons, but also no stupid juvenile humor for the kids. It truly is a film for everybody. Laika actually wants to make art for everybody to enjoy and that will actually resonate with people. They have succeeded every single time and I can’t wait to see what sort of story they’ll tell next.


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