‘Kubo and The Two Strings’ is a moving masterpiece

Consider the last time you’ve seen a non-CGI (computer generated image) animated movie on a widespread release.

Stumped? I can’t blame you. Ever since the widespread hit of blockbusters such as "Frozen" and "Shrek" along with Pixar’s reign and monopoly of well-loved films, any sort of non-CGI animation seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur for movies.

Stop motion animated film "Kubo and The Two Strings" defies this trend and brings a magic to the screen that can’t be achieved by any computer generated effect. Bringing a supposedly dead artform to the cinema, the animation weaves seamlessly into the plot for a breathtaking masterpiece to finish your summer with.

Produced by Laika Studios, the animation firm behind "Coraline," "ParaNorman" and other stop motion films, the plot is set in ancient Japan, following a one-eyed boy named Kubo, voiced by Art Patkinson, who has the extraordinary power of bringing origami figures to life with his shamisen (a Japanese string instrument).

He lives alone with his mother, who warns him not to venture outside after dark due to his grandfather, the Moon king wanting to track him down. His father, the samurai warrior Hanzo, died protecting him from this threat when Kubo was young, However, when Kubo ventures out after the sun sets, his village and way of life are destroyed when the Sisters, his aunts (voiced by Rooney Mara), hunt him down in the name of the Moon.

Joined by a magical monkey (Charlize Theron) and a amnesiac beetle warrior (Matthew McConaughey) it’s up to Kubo to find his father’s mystical samurai armor and defeat the Moon King.

Though the plot seems basic, the execution is flawless. The stop motion brings a lifelike energy to the visuals and the backgrounds and motifs throughout the movie make it stand out as a visual stunner.

The characters are constantly moving forward in the world, introducing a vast variety of scenes and locations for the viewer to appreciate. The animation itself flows without feeling jerky or mechanical, and the action and fight scenes bristle with energy. 

The voice actors fit the characters perfectly and add an extra dimension to the film. Kubo himself acts exactly the way a kid his age would act; he has his moments of happiness, despair, goofiness and resentment, all perfectly expressed through the animation.

Monkey is commanding, yet motherly (which is fitting, considering how Theron played Furiosa in "Fury Road") and Beetle is goofy, yet protective and swaggering.

Laika excels in making the villainous sisters as creepy as humanly (or, perhaps, inhumanly) possible. The smiling porcelain masks, the smoke effects and the levitation make the enemies terrifying and unique.

The plot itself may seem banal for a children’s film, but its nuances may surprise you. The film seems to acknowledge the intelligence of the audience, and deals with dark themes and motifs.

The end is surprisingly mature for a kiddie flick, but will leave you both in tears and smiles for such a fulfilling and emotional conclusion. At the same time, there are lighthearted moments and even a few laughs throughout the movie.

Fans of Japanese mythology will also appreciate the references and hints provided in the details referencing Shinto lore, along with the historical references and cameos from famous Japanese heritage actors such as George Takei (Oh, my.)

All in all, "Kubo and Two Strings" is a must see. Don’t be put off by its seemingly innocuous plot or its unusual medium in today’s world of CGI film. It’s a beautifully animated film with a riveting plot, gorgeous visuals, moving moments and excellent characterization. There’s something for both kids and adults to appreciate, both visually and emotionally.


Marlese Lessing is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu.