Laika has been animating since 2005 and in that time it has created 4 motion pictures. It all started with Coraline. Then it got better with Paranorman. Then, The Boxtrolls and then it got even better with Kubo and the Two Strings.
Whilst the other major animation companies like Pixar focus on bringing an object to life then animating it, LAIKA brings the story to life. It’s not enough to animate a talking monkey, the story has to amplify and envelop the monkey. You’ve got to feel for that monkey and what that monkey is doing. Pixar does this well (try not to think about Bing Bong (sniffs)) and it would be unfair to compare LAIKA to Pixar because they both work in different styles of animation; making things that make people happy and you’d have to be a monster to point out flaws with that. In my view animations have come a long way and have since out-dramatized most dramas and have made us cry more times than big budget flics have. Maybe because they remind us of childhood and the crushing feeling we’ll never get it back…
Anyway… back to LAIKA. It’s always a shame to me that their work doesn’t get the box office numbers a new Pixar would on release, because the tiny, intricate worlds that LAIKA creates are nothing short of miraculous.
I recently watched Kubo and the Two Strings and was blown away by the sincerity of it. It is obvious when you watch the film, the care and pride everyone took when making it. Once again it is a marvel of flawless stop-motion animation that takes your breath away and you have a hard time believing it’s real and not CGI. Kubo’s plot is original and creative much like its animation. It unfolds beautifully, like origami, leading towards a final act that is heart-warming as much as it is heart-breaking. The story follows Kubo (Art Parkinson), a talented young samurai-boy, who is both part of the story and the storyteller. He has magic powers, including the ability to bring origami sculptures to life, which means Kubo and the Two Strings sometimes delves into fantasies within its reality and these lines can become blurred but they are never unsatisfying.
The battle sequences are jaw-dropping and more frequent than I would have expected in a children’s film. They happen sporadically throughout as Kubo goes in search of his late father’s armour. Along the way he is joined by a talking monkey (Charlize Theron) and a samurai beetle (Matthew McConaughey) who help him. By this point it is sounding very strange I know but the plot grounds itself by focusing on Kubo’s journey both physically and emotionally. The voice talent by the supporting cast is outstanding. McConaughey is charming and hilarious with some wonderful one-liners that balance out the darker, sadder and scarier tone of the film. Coraline did scary well and so did Paranorman (although Paranorman is more a comedy than anything else) but Kubo has a greater threat that you find out gradually has been the force behind the fights and tension in the film.
The film has depth both in story and visuals.