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‘Kubo’ Takes Stop Motion to a New Level

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“Kubo and the Two Strings,” the newest film from the stop-motion animation studio Laika, is an animated treat quite unlike any other the studio has thrown out! The film follows a young boy named Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) who, along with two characters named Monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron) and Beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), must go on an adventure to seek three specific items in order to do battle with an enemy that is threatening Kubo’s existence.

Laika has easily been one of the most promising animation studios around, starting in 2009 with their critically acclaimed “Coraline” and following up with the similarly successful “ParaNorman” (2012). Prior to “Kubo” was 2014’s “The Boxtrolls,” which most agreed was fine but not as impressive as the company’s previous movies. Would “Kubo” be able to meet the studio’s expectations made by their first two films, or was “Boxtrolls” a sign that they could be going downhill? Fortunately, not only is “Kubo and the Two Strings” an exceptional film, it is easily the studio’s best work since “Coraline.”

The creativity in this film is through the roof. It presents a host of different concepts, characters and visuals that all are masterfully executed through Laika’s breathtaking stop-motion animation and combined nicely with ancient Japanese culture. But what makes it stand out is its overall story and themes. Several powerful themes about making your own destiny, moving on from things and growing up are all conveyed beautifully — and offer children and adults leaving the theater with some thought-provoking ideas.

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kuboEven those who may not completely get the themes right away will still leave highly entertained. This all comes from Travis Knight’s wonderful direction, as the film contains a brisk, well-balanced pace that holds no dull moments, yet is still able to brilliantly flesh out its characters. The action sequences are like nothing I have seen from a stop-motion feature film before, and it was a welcome treat to see such ambition put into the production.

The characters and voice acting are, just as you’d imagine, top notch in every way. Art Parkinson as Kubo helps make the character quite grounded and relatable, and his development throughout the film really helped him shine as a strong protagonist. Matthew McConaughey’s Beetle was a hilarious comic relief while remaining a wicked fighter. He also had what was easily the best character animation of the film. However, the character that worked best was Charlize Theron’s Monkey. Not only was she incredibly funny and the highlight of most of the action scenes, she also proved to be grounded and tenderly supportive to Kubo. These three had some of the best chemistry I have seen in an animated film. All of their dialogue was snappy, hilarious and  harp while — and also balanced with some heartfelt shared moments. Funny enough, the movie provides a reason as to why it works so well, which I dare not spoil.

If there were any minor flaws, it’s despite having a faster pace than most Laika films, some parts do drag. Also the villain could have been a bit more interesting in his design. It comes off as somewhat forgettable, which is sad given that his character is actually quite interesting, as well as his motives.

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Finally, one flaw I have with just about all of Laika’s work from the point of view as a stop-motion animator myself, is that even though they do use a lot of beautiful stop motion, there are also plenty of computer-generated effects thrown in to help enhance the imagery. While the CGI doesn’t look bad in the slightest and blends in well to not seem distracting, there are some scenes where I could see CGI was used, and it takes something away from the handcrafted stop motion.

“Kubo and the Two Strings,” delivers what is easily one of the year’s most original and outstanding films. Thanks to its brilliant direction, lovable characters, stunning animation and engaging concepts, “Kubo” stands out as one of the best animated films of the decade and will hopefully be remembered for years to come.

Folks, stop-motion films don’t make enough money in theaters, and it is beyond critical that we help preserve this precious art form from fading into complete obscurity. So, please go out and be sure to give this film the love and support that it deserves. You won’t be disappointed!

Mikael Trench, 18, is a freshman at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). He is an aspiring filmmaker who specializes in working with stop-motion animation. His latest stop-motion animated short film, “The Tree That Refused To Fall” won viewer’s choice award at the It’s My Life Atlanta Youth Film Festival this summer.

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