The stop-motion film has been with us since the 1920’s, coming from all over the world. When America got into the action it took place in most of the decade of the 70’s, and they usually revolved around Christmas, films which we still see make their yearly run during the holiday season. It was in 1993 that new ground was broken, both in storytelling and what could be done with the stop-motion style with “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. In the past ten years there has been a resurgence of these kinds of films with varying degrees of success. From “Chicken Run”, and “Coraline” to the Wallace and Gromit films, and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”. The studio Laika has given us the afore mentioned “Coraline”, the underrated “ParaNorman” and 2014’s “The Boxtrolls”, now bring to life their boldest and most ambitious film to date with “Kubo and the Two Strings.”
Kubo’s story begins as he and his mother are fleeing her evil father and two sisters, they arrive at a small town where Kubo (Art Parkinson) earns money by telling a mythical version of his father’s heroic story with the help of his mother’s magical guitar and origami. When Kubo’s wicked family catch up to him, he believes his father’s sacred artifacts will help him defeat his grandfather. On his way he is helped by a talking monkey (Charilze Theron), a clueless, but brave cursed beetle-man-thing (Matthew McConaughey) and a tiny paper warrior. Together the team brave huge monsters and raging seas in a effort to keep Kubo safe.
I have to say with his first time out as director, Travis Knight has created a huge act to follow. Not only is the stop-motion animation amazing, but the script and story by Mark Haimes, Chris Butler, and Shannon Tindle is refreshingly original. They take a familiar premise and while they take it to it’s semi-predictable conclusion, they manage to fill it with fun, adventure, and enough action to keep both children and adults entertained throughout. They even take a tried and true Disney troupe and turn it enough to make it feel unique, even though you see it coming if you are paying attention or have seen one of the many films it references. The animation is so imaginative and transcendent that it is easy to forget this was all done with puppets and sets being photographed one frame at a time.
Along with the classic hero’s journey that evokes the best parts of “Star Wars”, I appreciated the injection of how we use stories, no matter how true or fantastical to help get us though our own lives. How it’s never about the end, but the journey itself which is what’s important. It’s a great message for kids, and a beautifully crafted reminder for the older generation that the best stories are the one’s we can share as well as the one’s that teach us about who we are and where we come from.