Kubo and the Two Strings is the fourth movie from Laika studios, following The Boxtrolls, ParaNorman, and Coraline. The movie uses a healthy mix of stop motion and computer animation to tell a compelling adventure story all about family. The action is great, the emotional beats are stellar, and it is unlike anything I have ever seen.
The movie opens with a mother sailing a storming sea, being chased by violent waves and the evil magic of the Moon King. After a crash landing, she washes up on a beach with her son, Kubo. Fast forward years later, and Kubo, voiced by Game of Thrones' Art Parkinson, is taking care of his silent and non-moving mother who only 'wakes up' briefly during the night. She stresses that Kubo should not be seen by the moon, or he too will face the wrath of the Moon King.
During her brief time awake, Kubo's mother tells him tall tales about a samurai named Hanzo who was brave enough to challenge the Moon King, but could only do so with three magical artifacts: a sword, a helmet, and a piece of armor. In turn, Kubo retells the story in a nearby town daily, using his magic to animate pieces of paper as he plucks his shamisen. As Kubo wonders about his father during a mourning festival in town, night falls and the adventure takes off.
When Kubo wakes up in the snow after being whisked away by magic, he finds that his treasured Monkey Idol has come to life to protect him. Charlize Theron voices Monkey with stern vigor, worthy of any master, keen on keeping Kubo alive as they search for the three magical artifacts from Hanzo's story. Throughout their adventure they cross paths with Beetle, voice by Matthew McConaughey, who recognizes the sigil on Kubo's magical robes. After a humorous debate concerning his abilities, Beetle joins the pair as they seek to challenge the Moon King.
Rooney Mara voices the two twin witches trying to stop Kubo, and Ralph Fiennes voices the Moon King himself. Their performances are okay and move the plot, but these roles could have been anyone.
Unfortunately, the Two Strings portion of the title cannot be discussed without massive spoilers to the plot. Rest assured, the payoff is there, and the title makes perfect sense after viewing the film.
Luckily, the action and visuals are stunning, even with a clever execution of a by-the-book plot. The four set pieces are stunning, and Kubo's paper folding magic is incredibly inventive and fun. During the credits they show behind the scenes footage of the biggest set piece, a massive battle with a giant skeleton, and it really shows the amount of love and effort put into the film.
Kubo and the Two Strings might be a kids movie, but it is fun even for adults. The adventure it takes you on is breathtaking and heartfelt, and the artistry required to pull of a full blown action movie of this scale in stop motion is impressive.
This review originally appeared on RoguesPortal.com.