Hopes seem to get higher and higher with every subsequent Laika release to the point that you fear eventually the wheels will have to fall off. Perhaps that day will come but not just yet, as the craftsmen supreme at Laika Studios have surpassed themselves again to keep up their fantastic run of superbly fun, lively and strange stop-motion animated masterpieces.
The latest, Kubo and the Two Strings, is a charming, thrilling and sufficiently weird tale of Kubo, a young boy with magical powers, lacking a father and an eye but in possession of a shamisen through which his power flows. The descendent of a mighty samurai who perished some years before and a magical mother, Kubo weathers an early tragedy to set off, with his talking monkey friend, on a quest to uncover the mystery of his own existence and the reasons for which his uncle, the Moon King, wishes him dead.
The orphan-on-a-quest-of-self- discovery motif might sound trite, but Marc Haimes and Chris Butler’s screenplay injects plenty of humour into the drama with an emotional heft that never feels overwrought or saccharine. In terms of design, it’s one of the most scintillating and innovative-looking animations movies ever. Brimming with invention, Kubo plays out at times like a hybrid video game/movie with the young lad questing against peculiar and outrageous mini-boss monsters as he searches for a legendary sword and suit of armour, pursued by his eerie aunties (two of the most thrilling-looking characters in recent memory). If that sounds like a stop-start shambles, believe me it’s not. A mid-movie action sequence taking part at sea has got to rank as one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever seen in a cinema, and I once watched six Arnold Schwarzenegger films in a row. The ending veers toward “cake and eat it” territory but saves a possible middling piece of self-serving with a heartfelt and moving moment of philosophy and rumination on family and mortality.
Eclectic and joyous and also heart-breaking and profound without a drop of cynicism, Laika Studios has, with Kubo and the Two Strings, smashed it out of the park by a huge distance. Stunning, simply stunning.
★★★★1/2| Chris Banks
Animation, Fantasy, Adventure | USA, 2016 | PG| Laika Entertainment | 9th September 2016 (UK) |Dir.Travis Knight | Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes