SCHNEIDER: “Kubo and the Two Strings” animation creates vibrant, emotional film

via+imdb.com

via imdb.com

The delicate sound of a shamisen echoes throughout the theater as roaring waves and lightning crackle across the screen. The words of the main character Kubo ring out, “If you must blink, do it now.” This line will define the film, a fast paced tale of family, magic and the pursuit of a person’s own happiness.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” is an animated masterpiece that came out in August. A well-crafted fairy tale on par with some of the best animated films of all time, it’s an original that draws heavily upon the folk tales of eastern Asia, putting a new spin on the classic hero’s journey.

The basic premise of the film is simple: Kubo was told since he was a boy never to go outside at night, or else his grandfather will steal his other eye, having already claimed the boy’s first many years ago. Despite his mother’s warnings, Kubo attempts to commune with his departed father’s spirit, but stays out too late and is assaulted by his grandfather’s twin daughters.

Luckily, he is saved by his mother, who gives her life to protect her son, leaving him with naught but a magical shamisen, a monkey guide and a quest to gather his father’s armor. Thus, Kubo departs on his journey, happening upon a beetle samurai along the way who assists him and the monkey in their mission to collect the armor, helmet and sword of Kubo’s samurai father.

The film was unexpectedly engrossing. The sequence of events were easily digestible and enjoyable, moving from a battle with a giant skeleton to a family dinner within minutes, without seeming forced.

The story of Kubo traversing the world in search of his father’s armor is strangely captivating. Perhaps it is his determination to succeed that draws the viewer in to care about his story, and the loss he encounters along the way. There is one scene in particular that tears at the heartstrings and was nearly unbearable to watch in theaters.

The film was created by the animation company Laika, whose productions include “ParaNorman,” “The Boxtrolls” and “Coraline.” Laika is a feature film studio that specializes in the style of stop-motion popularized by “Nightmare Before Christmas.” While still a fledgling company, their recent films have proven to be successful and profitable, and the studio is sometimes heralded as a savior of the stop-motion art film.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” is simply the next step in the company’s rise to glory.

3D stop motion animation is extremely time-consuming and in some ways more difficult than traditional 2D animation. Models have to be delicately crafted and positioned, and hundreds of thousands of still shots must be taken to achieve lifelike movement, or else the animation seems stiff and jarring. While stop motion is often overshadowed by its bigger brothers, 3D and 2D animation, it seems that Laika has hit upon their own distinctive style that can rival the beauty seen in other animation styles.

In my opinion, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is visually interesting. The backgrounds and set pieces never cease to amaze in their scope and detail. Leaves flutter on trees, sand moves flawlessly when stepped upon. Even minor locations have been lovingly handcrafted.

What is most impressive yet is the papercraft. Kubo has a mysterious power that allows him to fold and control paper magically. Sometimes he creates little birds that flutter about or tells a tale through moving origami figures. The paper blends seamlessly with the models around it, lending a mystical air to the whole film.

The models for each character are stunning in their emotive nature and in their design, from Kubo to his companions Monkey and Beetle to the villagers in Kubo’s hometown.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” was easily one of the best films of the year so far, and most certainly the best animated film. With masterful storytelling, visuals, and voice acting, not to mention a beautiful score, Kubo stands far and above other films in terms of sheer quality. I would highly recommend anyone to check this film out in the theaters, or rent it once it is released on DVD.