Kubo and the Two Strings
Release Date: August 18, 2016
Director: Travis Knight
Story by: Shannon Tindle, Marc Haimes
Screenplay: Marc Haimes, Chris Butler
Cast: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro
I’ve been always fascinated with the exploration of Death and the After Life on media [see also Handling the Undead], alongside themes of loss, of course. So Laika’s most recent outing, Kubo and the Two Strings, hit all the right notes for me in terms of emotional hooks and visual wonder.
Note: I watched the Latino dub as it’s the only version available in the region. There’s no official information on the dubbing team.
The film follows a boy named Kubo (Parkinson), who must set out on a quest to find an armor (an unbreakable sword, a breastplate and a helmet) to protect himself from his aunts, the Sisters (Mara), and his grandfather the Moon King (Fiennes). Joining Kubo are his protective (snow) Monkey (Theron) and the ridden-from-his-memories Samurai Beetle (McConaughey).
This is possibly my favorite Laika animation to date; it starts with one of the many gorgeously animated sequences as Kubo’s Mother is escaping from her family to save her baby, who has just lost his eye. She’s on what seems a sail-less wasen (or sabani) boat  keeping a firm grip on her Shamisen as the storm rages on the moonlit night. Her baby safely tucked in a sling on her back, clearly marked with a samurai crest. All little details at the hands of costume designer Deborah Cook, set dressers and designers Andy Berry and Carl B Hamilton, and literally everyone involved in putting together the puppets, their wardrobe, the sets, the props and everything. I was the most amazed with the way the ocean was animated on that opening sequence, so I hope there’s a featurette on it included in the BR release.
I wasn’t completely sure if Coraline had used 3D printing for the characters’ faces, as I remembered ParaNorman promoting it much more considering they amped the possible facial expressions from “merely” 207k for Coraline’s debut to nearly 1.5M for Norman and Egg  in their respective films. For Kubo, they’ve reached 48M possible facial expressions , and it shows in the subtleties of his emotions. The way they develop his relationship with his mother via the look in their eyes builds up to the breaking point when Monkey ties that last strand of his mother’s hair around his wrist, almost like an omamori , a protective charm that will later play on the final arc.
What Kubo and the Two Strings has in emotive scenes, it also has in spooky ambiance and action— the Latino dub managed to keep the chilling intro of the Sisters (compared to the trailer) with that ghastly “Kubo…” and possibly made it scarier. The action is packed as it is elegant with the Sisters’ long black capes draping around them and floating as they descended. The striking segment of the trio crossing the lake with the ship made of leaves and battling one of the Sisters is another one of the highlights.
Overall, Kubo and the Two Strings has managed another great entry to their animated canon, increasing the stakes in its storytelling and pushing the envelope when it comes to making a stop-motion film. This may not be as painstakingly poetic as The Tale of Princess Kaguya, but it damn sure is a fine one.
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