There is a plucky animation studio out there pushing technological envelopes and producing high-quality family films with an impressive, clockwork regularity. If I had written that sentence 20 years ago, it would have been about Pixar. But, today, I am talking about Laika.
In pushing stop-motion animation to dizzying new heights, Laika has produced the movies “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” and “The Boxtrolls.” Its latest release, “Kubo and the Two Strings,” arrives as the best of the lot and that’s saying something.
Riffing on Japanese folklore, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is the story of a young boy named Kubo (Art Parkinson), who has the magical ability to make origami come to life simply by playing his guitar. He mainly uses this gift to entertain villagers with stories of heroes and monsters.
But tragic events force Kubo onto a quest to locate a magical suit of armor that will give him the power to face the mighty Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). Kubo is joined on his quest by the highly capable, no-nonsense Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a daring, cursed warrior with no memory simply called Beetle (Matthew McConaughey).
Along the way, Kubo encounters his share of monsters and learns a powerful lesson about family and the strength of memories.
“Kubo and the Two Strings” is an impeccably crafted movie that pushes all the right buttons and perfectly blends emotion with action and comedy.
It’s important to emphasize the effectiveness of the story because that is ultimately what makes this movie so tremendous. But even if the story was an absolute flop, “Kubo and the Two Strings” would still be a technological wonder.
This is not the stop-motion animation pioneered by Ray Harryhausen or made beloved by Gumby and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It’s not even what you remember from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
What Laika has done here with stop-motion animation is nothing short of epic in regards to detail and scale. The fact you almost immediately forget these characters are puppets whose every movement is meticulously changed by human hands is an achievement unto itself.
The technological wizards at Laika even crafted what is believed to be the largest stop-motion animation figure ever created, a 16-foot-tall skeleton with glowing eyes that guards an indestructible sword.
Balancing all of this heart and skill is director Travis Knight. Even though he is the CEO of Laika and son of the studio’s benefactor, Nike founder, and mogul Phil Knight, this is the first Laika film Travis has directed. I have a sneaking suspicion it won’t be his last.
The jury is still out on if Laika can set the bar for an entire generation of family films in the way Pixar has, but if it can keep making movies like “Kubo and the Two Strings,” then it is certainly on the right track.
“Kubo and the Two Strings” is rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, action, and peril.