As our main character tells us at the start of the movie “Blink and you might miss something.” If you do blink you will miss one of the frames that have been conceived, crafted and filmed through intelligence, love and enthusiasm from the people at Laika. Kubo is a film that’s the whole package, it has color, laughs, visuals, tears and action.
Kubo is a child that lives on a mountains edge with his mother that suffers from a damaged memory. During the day he goes down to the village where he plays his shamisen which manipulates the paper into origami to tell his stories, the main story is about the great warrior Hanzo and his legendary three pieces of armour, however he never finishes his tales. He must return home before night so that his evil aunts and grandfather will never find them.
So naturally that’s exactly what happens. His aunts (Rooney Mara) are the first to arrive and before they can take him, his mother performs a spells that takes him far away. He wakes to find a white, talking baboon sitting by him telling him they have to move. She is simply named Monkey (Charlize Theron), they move across the icy mountain and through non-forced exposition and fun banter now understand that Kubo must retrieve the three pieces of the armour. While traveling Kubo then meets a large creature that looks like a man, but encased in black armour that resembles a beetle so he is named Beetle (Mathew McConaughey). He knows that he was a samurai warrior, but was cursed and is in the form he is in now and only has pieces of who he was. But he still has his skill’s as a warrior and his memory’s have a connection to Kubo’s father so he joins them on their journey.
But beyond the cuteness and likability of its characters is also the talented script-writing. Where everything has a point and comes back in the end. Having funny jokes is good, but its real talent when you can take those jokes and make them seeds for future character reveals and important plot points where you are able to tell that your with the professionals that earn they’re paycheck.
Laika as a studio is both recent and unique. They started in 2009 and have now produced four feature films, all stop motion. They are all family films but not light ones, no there films have had very dark shadows and monsters with claws and teeth. They are more like the movies of Don Bluth, where they understand you need to teach children about the stakes in life and give them entertainment that challenges as well as makes them laugh.
Probably the reason there is so many good things in this movie is because with stop motion literally nothing happens by accident. Everything from an expression, to a piece of hair moving has to be be manipulated by an animator. So everything that is not necessary and would save on hours upon hours of work is worked out and what is left is the spectacular and the necessary.
The way death is handled in this movie is permanent. There are real stakes and it makes everything so much sadder. This may be obvious but in children’s movies death has always been diluted, characters are either not really dead or they’re death is not total, as in they can come back or still be talked to as a ghost. Here there is a clear line of the living and the dead, this movie takes it on itself to tell children about death and not sugar-coat it.
If you know anything about the rigorous effort that goes into animation at all then you will appreciated nearly every second of this movie in some way. If you care for literally well-crafted stories then you’ll be satisfied. If you demand some more heartfelt messages that will nourish as well as entertain our children then this movie shall fill it.