It’s only August, but 2016 has been an underwhelming year at the theater.
Yes, there’s still plenty of time for a late flourish to finish out the year strong (I’ll be seeing “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” at midnight and keep an eye out for “The Accountant” in October) but judging from what we’ve seen so far, this year hasn’t been nearly as impressive as the slam dunk that 2015 turned out to be.
However, one animated film from a budding studio just gave this year a fighting chance.
A friend of mine was taking his two younger siblings to see “Kubo and the Two Strings” and, after this abysmal summer of movie-going, I decided to give this “kids’ movie” a shot in hopes of seeing at least one good movie at the theater this month.
I think I liked it way more than the kids.
“Kubo” is a beautiful and inventive adventure film that delivers on every level, from the engrossing story to the stellar voice work to the gorgeous stop-motion animation style from the studio behind it. It’s one of those animated films that, while it may be marketed toward kids, there’s so much more than just spectacle that can be gleaned from the messages in the film itself.
The story is more melancholy than you’d expect from a summer movie “for kids,” but not so dour that it puts a damper on the experience as a whole, and the lessons learned throughout the film about imagination and perspective are so important for the next generation to be exposed to.
Kubo, voiced by Art Parkinson, is a young boy living in Japan at a time where monsters and magic are real, and through a particular set of circumstances (that I won’t spoil because you should go see this movie), he sets out on an adventure to obtain three pieces of powerful armor with the help of protective Monkey and forgetful but valiant Beetle, voiced by Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey, respectively.
Kubo and his companions are faced with various obstacles and foes along the way and, with the help of his magical shamisen (like a Japanese guitar with fewer strings), Kubo has the power to bring pieces of paper to life that can form miniature samurai, animals, and even a boat. Everything about this movie screams creativity and inventiveness, even down to the way Kubo and his friends handle the situations they find themselves in.
During the course of Kubo’s journey, he also learns valuable lessons about forgiveness, perspective and family from Monkey and Beetle. This isn’t a movie stuffed with filler. Every experience that Kubo goes through leads to a valuable lesson, and they almost always come after a rousing action sequence that keeps everybody in the audience engaged. There are moral aspects that any child can understand and even more so that adults can appreciate.
While the story deals with some decidedly heavy aspects, from Kubo’s depressed mother and their struggle to make ends meet to Kubo’s constant hiding from his vengeful grandfather, the film’s colorful backdrop and snappy dialogue from its charismatic trio of main characters keep it from dragging for even a minute of it’s 102-minute runtime or becoming too grim for a filmgoer of any age to sit through comfortably.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say a few words about the studio behind this movie, Laika, who flexes its hallmark stop-motion animation muscle in a breathtaking way in this film. This is the same team that created “Coraline,” “Paranorman” and “The Box Trolls,” but “Kubo” has got to be the crown jewel in their repertoire so far. The film sports colorful landscapes and action sequences that put some recent live-action movies to utter shame, and much of the work is done by hand, a painstaking process that is wholly justified by the result.
When you actually see “Kubo” for yourself, you’ll see how this art style just leaps right off the screen in shimmering detail. If Laika keeps producing these offbeat, brave, beautiful films, Disney and Pixar are going to have a real problem on their hands atop the animation throne.
Take your kid to see this movie. Take your mom to see this movie. Man, take me to see this movie. It’s worth your time and it’s certainly worth the money. Laika and studios like it don’t make enough money, and we as moviegoers should be championing the teams dedicated to the fresh, creative filmmaking like what’s on display here.
Summer may be winding down, but 2016 isn’t dead yet thanks to Kubo and his two strings.