66. Kubo and the Two Strings

This is what I love about the movies.  I get absolutely ecstatic when some little film comes out of left field with virtually no warning and shows the whole world how movie-making is supposed to be done.  It happens every year.  Usually a few times.  Kubo and the Two Strings is one of those instances in 2016.

I went in hopeful.  I could tell the film had potential.  The animation looked great.  The reviews were looking just as good.  And it appeared to be something totally fresh.  But nothing is ever a guarantee until it happens.  And it happened.  Did it ever happen!

I’m going to start with the animation.  I just . . . I just have to.  The film is animated using stop motion, but it’s so smooth and fluid that my brain could hardly comprehend it.  My eyes kept trying to convince me that the film was animated with CGI and said brain was almost convinced.  Only the barely-perceptible frame changes during mouth movement when the characters were speaking kept me firmly rooted in reality, but holy cow!  I’ve never seen such amazing stop motion work.  Never.  Some of the scenes are so absurdly massive in scale and bombastically complex that I have a hard time even understanding how the animation and effects teams pulled it off.  Unbelievable work.  Just unbelievable.

And, on a related note, the art and character design is equally magnificent.  What’s the highest degree of superlative for “beautiful”?  Once you decide, throw it out and create a new word that’s about three degrees higher.  That is how Kubo not only looks but also feels.  I reveled in each new glorious location that the film transported me to and could hardly wait to see the next.  And the Sisters!  Those villainous Sisters are the sleekest, coolest-looking characters I’ve seen in any film in a long, long time.  Whenever they appear, their mere presence commands the viewer’s attention and then their voices (deliciously performed by Rooney Mara) seize it and hold it captive.   I felt myself perk up and smile every single time they arrived because (and I know I’ve used this word, already, but it’s too on-the-nose to use another one) they were just . . . so . . . frickin’ . . . cool!!!

Thankfully, each of the characters are well-written, well-developed, and well-rounded.  They all have decipherable and believable motivations as well as a purpose to serve within the overarching narrative of the film, itself.  The cast is brilliant in their efforts to bring these characters to life and how satisfying it must have felt to them to have made such a wonderful film without ever having to change out of their pajamas!

And though the movie takes place in a fictional world with majestic locales, mystical artifacts, and monstrous creatures, the internal struggles that each character deals with are very real and relatable.  Death, betrayal, and having to make the hard choices between one’s own dignity and the acceptance of family are very deep subjects to mine and Kubo manages to do so with grace and elegance.

And fun!  The action scenes are amazing, both in conception and execution, and each of them feeds into both character and story development.  Kubo is easy to empathize with as our protagonist and Monkey and Beetle fulfill their roles, as well.  But the story is so intricate that I feel like I need to see it again with the benefit of hindsight to make sure I caught all of the clues at the beginning before the backstory and character motivations are fully revealed.

And that sounds perfectly fine to me!  I frankly can’t wait to see Kubo again!  Because of the poor scheduling of my local theater, I had to see it in 2D, tonight.  I need to catch it in 3D when I can.  It’s too gorgeous not to.  That aside, Kubo is everything a film should strive to be.  It’s original and imaginative with deep, complex characters and story, while also featuring jaw-dropping visuals and being exceptionally entertaining.  If I had a concern coming into Kubo, it was that the film wouldn’t be much fun and would take itself too seriously in an effort to be perceived as quote/unquote “artistic”.  Those fears were completely unfounded.  I had a blast watching Kubo and it’s still as artistic a film as we’re likely to see all year!  Plus, for the first time that I can remember, I don’t believe that Disney or Pixar has the best animated film of the year.  But that accolade is quite frankly a restrictive glass ceiling of a compliment for Kubo.  It isn’t just a great animated film; it’s one of the best films of the year, period!  Congratulations to director Travis Knight and studio Laika!

The only question that remains in my mind is whether enough people will see it to elevate it from a sure-fire cult classic to the full-blown worldwide classic that it deserves to be.  Please, please, please support this film!  You say you want something fresh, original, and quality?  Here it is!  So prove that you mean it!  Go see Kubo and the Two Strings!  Like, now!

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