Let's be honest, most American animated fare consists of elongated chase scenes with large dollops of slapstick thrown in for the modern, attention-span-challenged kid. This movie (unusually) does not condescend to children in the manner we're accustomed to. Kubo and the Two Strings completely blindsided me. I was not prepared for just how beautiful, expansive and touching this experience was going to be. It's being (erroneously) sold as kind of a typical animated "buddy romp" including an Asian child and a talking monkey. This doesn't come close to articulating what kind of achievement Kubo is and, also, a testament to how nervous Hollywood is to attempt selling anything to kids that may challenge them.
The story revolves around a young boy who learns he shares a mystical talent with his grieving mother while on a quest for three magical items. Even though the project comes to us from Laika (Coraline) it manages to capture some of the flavor of legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away). Fairytales from Japanese filmmakers have a more... um... er... "random" quality to their narratives that detours from the tidy and loud formulaic story structures we Yanks are used to. It's also not afraid to be scary. The sequences involving a pair of twin sister witches are eerily unsettling and perhaps a bit too frightening for little ones.
You have to hand it to the artisans who still have the patience to do this kind of stop-motion animation. Oh, it's enhanced by CGI but, as the ending credits show, most of it was still done in the old painstaking fashion of one frame at a time. Just gorgeous. Beyond the vivid and vibrant color scheme and exceptional visuals of every type, is also a beguiling story that's unique without being obtuse.
The only issue I have with this otherwise wonderful film regards vocal talent. As much as I adore both Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey, neither of their voices lend themselves to classic periods or storytelling. Theron, in particular, is jarringly contemporary for her role as a mystical monkey from a fantastical Japan of old who joins Kubo on his journey. The "whose voice is that?" award goes to Brenda Vaccaro as an old Asian lady.
This makes two absolutely superlative animated films this year. Both Kubo and the Two Strings and Zootopia are on my top ten list so far.
(Loudinni provides movie reviews under 500 words, sans spoilers.)