Kubo and the Two Strings

 

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The wondrous stop-motion factory, Laika, returns with a new cartoon set in the Edo period 

of Japan.

 

Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) and the scarab beetle he befriends (Matthew McConaughey)

 

With the aid of his musical strings, Kubo tells tales of derring-do, fearless samurai warriors and terrible monsters. Although still a young boy, Kubo has mastered the art of troubadour, magically transforming ordinary pieces of paper into elaborate stagecraft. However, it took two writers (Marc Haimes and Chris Butler) to fashion the labyrinthine story behind this epic cartoon of family loyalty and betrayal. And therein lies the problem. There is so much backstory, so many narrative twists and preternatural transformations that it would be hard for an Oriental professor to follow, let alone a young, unenlightened denizen of the multiplex.

 

This being a stop-motion production from Laika, the company that brought us Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls, the animation is nothing short of wondrous and is imbued with both charm and otherworldly enchantment. This is the film’s strength. There’s also a starry vocal accompaniment, although one must wonder at the choice of Matthew McConaughey as a scarab beetle from Japan and the odd American inflection that creeps into Ralph Fiennes’ delivery as the merciless Moon King (in spite of the actor’s forays into Shakespeare and Ibsen, the shadow of Voldemort will haunt this talented man for years to come).

 

Blending blatant riffs from Arthurian legend and German folklore, the film strains to be innovative but only partially succeeds. Bordering, too, on the worlds excavated by Mulan and Kung Fu Panda, Travis Knight's Kubo does carve out its own patch and creates a singular universe set in the Edo period, in which all sorts of creatures and inanimate objects leap into life. But the film’s greatest asset is the animation of Kubo’s origami, which reflects the filmmaker’s own painstaking efforts at drawing magic out of puppets and into the realm of cinematic sorcery. For that we must be grateful – and for a film of such artistry to reach the multiplex and do battle with the decidedly inferior Angry Birds Movie and Ice Age: Collision Course.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Voices of Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro, Rooney Mara, Matthew McConaughey.

 

Dir Travis Knight, Pro Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner, Screenplay Marc Haimes and Chris Butler, from a story by Shannon Tindle and Marc Haimes, Ph Frank Passingham, Ed Christopher Murrie, Music Dario Marianelli, Costumes Deborah Cook.

 

Laika-Universal Pictures.

102 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 9 September 2016. Cert. PG.