“If you must blink, do it now”. This is the first thing we hear in Kubo and the Two Strings, a recurring line that the film’s titular young hero uses before recounting stories of samurai warriors and their battles, to the local villagers who live close to his and his mother’s home/cave.
It’s also a suggestion to the audience from the film-makers (one I would wholeheartedly recommend) to take a moment to prepare yourselves for the visual feast that is about to follow. With a sudden burst of light, we’re in the middle of an ocean as Kubo’s mother battles a mountainous range of tidal waves in an attempt to get her young son to safety.
It is a beautiful, eye-bulging opening scene which is instantly more epic than anything Laika have done before – and that’s just the beginning of what is a series of jaw-droppingly stylish moments that you would never think possible of creating using stop-motion animation.
Whether it’s the gasp-inducing, edge-of-your-seat scene in which a monkey battles a witch on a sinking ship made from browning, autumnal leaves, or one of the film’s more tender sequences in which lanterns are sent flowing down a river in respect of the dead, the amount of detail and technical intricacy that has gone into the film is nothing short of wizardry.
But what’s even more pleasing than ‘Kubo’s’ magical imagery, is the fact that it has been built on a story filled with substance and poetry. There’s a mythology to the film which is wonderful to watch unfold, as our young protagonist sets out on a quest to find some legendary armour and comes across strange monsters, brave samurai and angry gods.
The storytelling is superb, enriched further by the darkness that Laika have proven unafraid of injecting into their films. From Coraline to Paranorman and this, the animation studio’s penchant for Grimm-like cautionary tales have meant that, at a time where Pixar’s upcoming slate of films primarily includes sequels, they are creating some of the most original and grown-up animations in cinema at the moment. And whilst each of their films are truly wonderful, this has to be their biggest masterpiece to date.
One of the most pleasing animated features I’ve seen since the tremendous How to Train Your Dragon 2, Kubo and the Two Strings immediately jumps into my list of the very best films of 2016. It’s beautiful on the inside and out, has a fantastic voice cast, a great soundtrack and a story that is exciting, enthralling and moving. It’s nothing short of perfect, so go see it.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com