Saturday, 10 September 2016

Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings
Cert: PG / 102 mins / Dir. Travis Knight / Trailer

On the whole, I'm not an animation-snob (cf*1), but the presence today of the trailer for the upcoming Trolls movie from Dreamworks brought about the gut-wrenching feeling that animated storytelling is seriously, seriously ill. Between the computers which have rendered the film and the marketing robots who wrote, cast and performed in it, the cinematic result seems far more plastic than the product they're artlessly trying to revive. That's an extreme example of course, but a symptom of decline which shouldn't be dismissed.

And if Deamworks' Trolls is the disease, Kubo and the Two Strings is the antidote.

Set in classical-era Japan, from the moment that Art Parkinson's eponymous young hero delivers the first words of the film, "If you must blink, do it now…", the audience is whisked into a multi-pronged folk tale with Inception-like layers of metaphor, intertwining and interacting to become far more than the sum of their parts. I spent most of the film with either goosebumps, a massive grin on my face or a combination of both. With Kubo removed from his home and placed on an overtly-magical quest to recover the armour which will protect him against his enemies, plot-moments which any other film would delight in holding back as A Reveal™ are neatly signposted, yet no less satisfying in their eventual execution. It's a textbook rendition of The Hero's Journey that's made stronger by its adherence to the principles.

It also looks bloody gorgeous. As much as computer animation is a valuable tool in the right hands (and indeed is used in Kubo as an assist, rather than a crutch), there's something so tactile about Laika's stop-motion work that speaks to the audience more than even live-action movies can. The amount of care which has gone into every single frame of Kubo is humbling. As immersive as the story is, I never forgot I was watching a film in a cinema, although that's also very much the point of the narrative-layering. The irony also wasn't lost on me that all assembled were watching a film in 3D*2 where so much emphasis is put on the protagonist only having one eye (and indeed, his ultimate foe having none). Kubo's monocular vision is never presented as a setback, but is it a subtextual nudge from the film-makers that you should be sitting next door in the 2D screening?

But like all the best stories, Kubo can be enjoyed as the adventure-tale that sits on the surface or as a lesson in storytelling itself, and there should be something in here for all audiences. I'm aware that my outpouring of admiration has possibly looked too deeply into the structural side of things, but with a film this good, I can't not. It's funny, it's exciting and as you've gathered, I genuinely cannot find a bad word to say about this film. To me, it is perfect.

Oh, and watch the end-credits; until the names begin to roll, at least.

Laika's masterpiece, Kubo and the Two Strings is utterly magical; everything that animation is meant to be.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Paranorman, The Book Of Life.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
You should watch it any way you can.
Which, for now, is in a cinema

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?

Is this the best work of the cast or director?

And that's not to be dismissive of the director's previous works with Laika.
Although, as Art Parkinson appeared in San Andreas, Charlize Theron starred in Winter's War and Matthew McConaughey spent more than a few years in the thespic wilderness, I'll reaffirm that the answer to this question is a resounding YES

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Maybe. Maybe not.
But I'll want an explanation, at least

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
There seem to be several subtle references to Star Wars throughout, be it odd moments in Dario Marianelli's score, the similarity between the magical effects of Kubo's shamisen and the seismic charges from AotC, or just the feeling that the Samurai armour in the film is returning the favour and paying a sly compliment to Darth Vader.

Anyway, it's Level 1: This film features the voice of George 'Lok Durd' Takei.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Exceptions apply, obviously, and sometimes bad CGI just has to be called out for what it is.

*2 And I'm pleased to report that the 3D works really well in this movie. Laika had previously struggled to bring the depth to the screen with the size of miniature they were working with, but that seemed to be ironed out with time and it's good to see they're now comfortable with it.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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