“If you must blink,” a child-like voice says over the dark screen. “Do it now.” Never have truer words been uttered to explain this visionary masterpiece. One milli-second you miss is one milli-second of the completely stunning visionary tale that is Kubo. Animated by Laika (the studio behind Paranormal, Coraline, The Box Trolls), the story begins with a mother and her child in a small boat in the night. The dark and haunting sea surrounds them as a 20 story wave hovers over them, about to crash. The mother, seemingly possessed by magic, takes out her three stringed instrument and strikes the chords as the wave falls flat allowing her and her child to safely pass through. Her worried expression hints at a darker tone as she appears to be escaping from something or someone. Her and her child, now revealed to have only one eye, wash up on the beach, tired and scarred. Five minutes have passed and you have yet to blink.
The now 11 year old Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson who plays Rickon Stark in HBO’s Game of Thrones) and his quiet, damaged mother live in a cave above a village.Kubo spends his day telling stories for tips. His stories are told through magic and, funny enough, origami.
When he comes, the villagers circle around him in awe as he retells his mother’s stories about his father, a great warrior who apparently died protecting him and his mother from The Moon King, a.k.a. his grandfather. Time goes by and his village is destroyed by his aunts; two terrifying women (both voiced by Rooney Mara) wearing porcelain masks who have come to take Kubo’s other eye. After narrowly escaping with the help of his mother, he finds himself moments later in the company of a monkey (Charlize Theron). Soon, the monkey, him, and a rather dim-witted beetle warrior (Matthew McConaughey) who claim to have served Kubo’s father. Kubo finds himself on an adventure to locate his father’s unbreakable sword, armor, and helm to defeat the Moon King and his two fearsome daughters.
The stop-motion animation makes this film one of the most visually stunning of them all. The colors are bright yet dreary; the animation blended as one, yet aspects are separated clearly.
However, Laika did not only achieve the goal of creating another critically successful stop-motion animation; it demolished it. It is easy to see why it is one of the highest rated animated pictures on Rotten Tomatoes with a whopping 96 percent. The cinematography can turn from bright and lush, to cold and dark in an instant and yet not overwhelm you with its quick transition. The quick one-liners and silly humor keeps a light tone despite its bleak and foreboding atmosphere. It carries a deeper, more thoughtful meaning through the end of it. It teaches lessons about loss, friendship and the importance of happiness.
Although not quite to the level of Pixar’s ability to advertise, it does a darn good job of story-telling and, in my opinion, surpasses the studio’s animation. This film is one of the most gorgeous, thought provoking and genius films that I have ever laid eyes on. It is easily the best movie of 2016 so far.