Upon leaving the theatre after a viewing of Laika’s new stop-motion animated film Kubo and the Two Strings, I needed some time to collect my thoughts on what I had just witnessed. In a word: stunning. Produced by Laika Entertainment and distributed by Focus Features, the film was marketed as a masterpiece of its time and genre. I have to agree.
Before we get into a discussion on the film itself, let’s discuss Laika. This is the same production company that created The Box Trolls, ParaNorman and, especially noteworthy, Coraline. The production company prides itself on its individuality within the animation community, but its style within and dedication to stop-motion animation may be its most defining feature.
“Founded in 2005, LAIKA has grown to occupy a unique and distinctive place in American cinema by continuously expanding the boundaries of the 120-year-old technique of stop-motion animation. We are a community of storytellers, artists, inventors, technicians, and craftspeople from around the world, committed to fusing filmmaking’s state-of-the-art technologies with a handmade animation tradition as old as film itself. Our mission is to bring to the screen the kinds of emotional, innovative, and exhilarating stories we as filmmakers loved growing up,” as said on laika.com
Laika’s past films have visually stunned varying audiences, from the most common moviegoer to the avid animation enthusiast. There is something unique about the experience of watching stop-motion, simply defined by Dragonframe as “animation that is captured one frame at a time, with physical objects that are moved between frames”. Although I believe this is generally true with most dedicated animators and their films, I think there is something about the medium of stop-motion in particular that is able to spark the imagination. When Laika touches something, this especially seems to be the case.
The skill of the animation in Kubo and the Two Strings is masterful. From the movements and raw humanity of the characters themselves to the vast spaces and environments which said characters roam, the film is a piece of moving art. Despite its beauty, Kubo and the Two Strings was able to weave its plot and script into the art of its environments and character designs, both story and art working together to present a fast-paced, adventure-based storyline. Although at some points frantic, the film was also able to do justice to its inspirations and influences: ancient Japan.
Set in a fantastical realm of ancient Japan, the young Kubo makes money through his street performance of telling stories. Shortly after the film begins, Kubo is thrown into an adventure where the same stories that he has spent his days telling to the adoring crowds in the street become a vivid reality. In this way, Kubo and the Two Strings is able to pay homage to the art of storytelling by telling a well-crafted story that showcases the capabilities of story itself. Kubo and the Two Strings follows a protagonist who makes his living off of storytelling through a world where fables come to life, often due to his own abilities.
This suggestion of the power of storytelling is not only important as a notion, but important in that it leads us to pay more attention to the potential of storytelling. With a film that sparks our imaginations, we also may be more inclined to acknowledge some of the more creative aspects of ourselves, a powerful step to take. Beyond that, taking some time to witness a film that explores the imagination and art of storytelling in such a delightful way as Kubo and the Two Strings is of equal importance to considering the underlying ideas in the film; art for art’s sake is just as worthy an experience and this film is truly art.
Kubo and the Two Strings is able to be both a family film and a discussion on art, and that is another reason why it’s a film that is worth watching. There are sweet moments in the film, as well as truly skin-crawling antagonists, creepy caves and dangerous waters. The film is able to be entirely child-friendly and still capture the imagination of those well beyond the standardized age of “child”. All in all, it is a film truly deserving of the response it has received.