Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) – Laika’s Got Eyes on February

Though the summer box office, as a whole, may generally be a season loaded with popcorn thrills, the month of August is a comparative wasteland in terms of quality and, sometimes, total grosses, which seems understandable. The titles that studios have put their faith in the most usually get placed right in the thick of it during competitive months like June and July. In recent years, even May has ushered in the season with some solid blockbusters. Early to mid August may offer something of value – movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Straight Outta Compton come to mind – but the month is usually a glorified buffer in between the best of summer and the beginning of awards season.

Considering how forgettable much of August’s fare becomes in the long run – it’s okay, I forgot about The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Campaign, too – it’s a nice surprise to find something that could easily compete for “best movie of the summer” – especially when it’s sandwiched between a handful of other titles. Kubo and the Two Strings found itself in such a situation, staring down the barrel of a weekend where Sausage Party had already premiered and Suicide Squad was still going strong despite the massive drop-off. With some stellar animation, a talented vocal cast and a narrative unafraid of tackling deeply emotional themes, Kubo is something moviegoers of all ages should give a look.

Anyone familiar with Laika Entertainment knows that Kubo isn’t their first go-around. Oddly enough, likely for you and I, they’re owned by Phil Knight – yeah, that Phil Knight. But, just like Nike seems to introduce 30 new eye-popping uniform designs for the Oregon Ducks football program every season, Laika has proven their stop-motion pedigree with visually stunning movies like The Boxtrolls, ParaNorman, Corpse Bride and Coraline. With that kind of catalogue, it’s really moot point to say that Kubo is no different from its predecessors. It’s vibrant, epic in scale – appropriate given the plot’s equally adventurous nature – and overall well suited for the 3D experience.

As of writing this, Kubo and the Two Strings has only grossed just above $27.6 million worldwide. Not a good total when the production budget was more than twice that amount – $60 million, to be exact – especially considering the star power attached to it. George Takei, Rooney Mara and Ralph Fiennes all have relatively minor roles – the former especially – but all three manage to leave their mark on the narrative. Charlize Theron shines as Kubo’s mother, and Matthew McConaughey defiantly continues the McConnaisance by damn near carrying the film from his first appearance on as the comic relief. Of greater note, however, is Art Parkinson, who takes complete ownership of Kubo and effectively signals his arrival in Hollywood, which is undoubtedly an odd statement for a young actor with a relatively prominent role in Game of Thrones.

Most commendable of all is Kubo’s willingness to embrace difficult subject matter, for a family film, center its narrative on it, and talk about it in a responsible manner. What was perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this summer’s Finding Dory was its flirting with such themes and tones – death and animals in captivity, to name a couple – but never quite fully capitalizing on any of them, which was all the more frustrating considering Disney’s track record with sensitively depicting such darkness. For Kubo, with danger, there is a seemingly overwhelming sense of melancholy, but like the Disney classics of old, berthed out of darkness is hope, an important message for the young ones and one that grounds the narrative in a maturity that adults can enjoy.

Little else can be said about Kubo and the Two Strings, and truthfully, little else needs to be said. All you need to know is that is a fantastic animated film for all that isn’t getting the love it deserves – totally not the underlying motivation for this review, and Laika paid me nothing to say any of these things (wink). With Oscar season rolling around, Kubo’s run in theaters might not be as long as you think, so if you’re even slightly interested, maybe you should act on your gut fairly quickly. And speaking of the Oscars, at the very least, you will have seen what is a surefire candidate for Best Animated Feature, and don’t tell me you don’t like checking out as many Oscar nominees as possible.

 

3.5/4

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