There is just far too much data to break this movie down in one review so I apologize if my thoughts run together. This film was amazing in just about every way that I can imagine. Now that is not to say that it was great in every way imaginable, but in my mind this movie filled all of the right slots perfectly. The deep cultural accuracy, the breathtaking art of the figurines brought to life, and a soundtrack that will have you on the floor all fuse
together to make a truly wonderful story. Filled with action and adventure, danger and emotion, Kubo earns a top spot amongst the 2016 filmscape.
The story is a familiar one but takes place in somewhat unfamiliar territory. Director Travis Knight did extensive research to bring to life a mythical version of ancient japan through both art and story. Kubo (Art Parkinson) takes care of his mother as they hide out from her villainous family. Soon they are found and his mother is forced to give her life to protect Kubo and bring to life a monkey charm who Kubo mistakenly names Mr. Monkey (Charlize Theron). Monkey and Kubo set out to find the lost armor and weapon of Kubo’s father Hanzo and meet up with a cursed samurai who was turned into a beetle (Matthew McConaughey). Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle are chased and confronted along the quest by Kubo’s aunts known only as the Sisters (Rooney Mara channeling Catherine O’Hara) and his grandfather The Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). Each piece of the armor requires a test of skill and strength and each confrontation with the villains reveals more of the story about Kubo’s mother and father. You cheer for the heroes, despise the villains, and deeply care for Kubo and his story.
While this movie is wonderful storytelling the big standout is the truly breathtaking art that is brought to life. It’s no surprise as Laika is known to produce fantastic content ever since its first feature film, Coraline. But the marriage of new technology and old film techniques blends perfectly to bring these works of art onto the screen. Using a blend of stop motion built using clay, woodworking, and 3d printing techniques, and a seamless integration of in house CG animation, Laika is keeping the old arts of animation alive in this massively computer generated world. Even the director, who is the current CEO of Laika, continued to animate for this project. The result is an impressive work of art.
The last piece of the puzzle is a brilliant score composed by Dario Marianelli. The focus of much of the movie, and often paired anytime storytelling is brought up, is Kubo’s shamisen which allows him to use his magic. Marianelli uses this anytime Kubo uses his magic and mirrors the theme with a solitary piano. He mixes the Japanese themes with a unique sound and produces a score that has you either on the edge of your seat or in tears. Pile on to that a beautiful rendition of George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Regina Spektor and you have something nearing perfection.
This was an amazing film and one that I believe you need to see on the big screen to appreciate all of the intricate design and story elements. Couple that with a fantastic cast and you have by far the best animated movie of this year.