Kubo and the Two Strings
While I consider 'ParaNorman' my favorite title in the LAIKA collection, 'Kubo and the Two Strings' provides that potential coin-flip for yours truly, in that I might consider it the best LAIKA film. It's my opinion that a "best" and "favorite" are separate entities - the "best" being the film you'd recommend anyone watching, and "favorite" being the one that you have a personal attachment with. I think this one gets overlooked far too much, and it's powerful stuff for those of us who don't tend to hide the emotion we get from a good story.
The directorial debut of one, Travis Knight ('Bumblebee'), 'Kubo' is the story of a 12-year-old boy named, well, Kubo (Art Parkinson), whose left eye was taken from his grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), Setting the stage for what's to come, the film lets you know right away that it's not messing around. Kubo takes care of his Mother through the nights, who is evidently suffering from Alzheimer's. He makes a living for them, playing his two-stringed shamisen (a Japanese string instrument, similar to a guitar) for the local villagers, and creating origami magic from his music. The paper and his words tell the tale of a samurai warrior named Hanzo; his father. He never finishes, however, as his Mother warns him not to stay out after dark due to the Moon King, and her two sisters, Karasu and Washi (both Rooney Mara) will get him and take his remaining eye.
Kubo learns of the Bon Festival, where the living pay their respects and speak to the dead. Kubo goes to try to communicate with his father, and find out who he really was without all of his warrior glory. This keeps him out late, and Kubo is attacked by the two aforementioned sisters. With the sisters and his grandfather hot on his heels, going after his other eye (it is eventually explained why), Kubo ends up living out his own story, finding himself on a journey to find his father's magical armor, and fighting alongside a protective Monkey known as "Monkey" (Charlize Theron) and a bumbling samurai beetle known as "Beetle" (Matthew McConaughey). I know, unoriginal names, but wait until the end because there's even a reason for that.
While 'Coraline' is the obvious fan favorite, I still consider this one to probably be the best overall. There's so much imagination and magic with so many underlying grown-up themes, it's one I feel the whole family could watch and get something out of, quite easily. Although, as LAIKA goes, I have to warn that there's some petty creepy stuff going on in this film - like a kid whose grandfather took his damn eye when he was a baby, and wants his other one for whatever the hell reason (again, explained eventually). So, like the whole "button eye" thing in 'Coraline', I could see things getting uncomfortable for the young ones.
Still, that creepy plot-line aside, there's plenty of really beautiful animation, and awesome set pieces (including an underwater eye garden... Jesus, what's with LAIKA and eye stuff?), plus this has a really catchy soundtrack, using the shamisen. There's even a half-decent cover of 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' during the end credits. It earned two Oscar nominations, including Best Animated Feature and Best Visual Effects, losing them to 'Zootopia' and 'The Jungle Book', respectively (both well-earned). Finally, it's the highest-ranked LAIKA film on Rotten Tomatoes with a whopping 97%. So maybe all of that means very little nowadays, but one can still look at that and say that the film is, overall, well-liked.
Accolades aside, I personally love it based on how much imagination was put into it. I consider it the idea of an anime-style film, but using LAIKA's stop-motion model. While that idea might turn a few people off, I just think it adds to the creativity of it all. Watching this film, at least for myself, is kinda like sitting through someone else's dream. It's beautifully shot, the characters are fantastical, the sets themselves are incredibly dream-like at times, and when it's all over, that cover song sends you off with a bit of a lullaby tone. It's a wonderful film, it gets deep, and I highly recommend checking it out if you're in the mood for a really cool adventure.
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