Travis Knight / Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara / Fantasy, Adventure / 2016 / PG / 102mins
This beautiful stop motion animation from Laika Studios creates a fantastical myth that captivates from start to finish and is, without a doubt, one of the best family films this decade.
A young Japanese boy called Kubo (Parkinson) cares for his mother by night and tells tales of old by day using his musical magic in the local village. An emotional Kubo, looking to communicate with his dead father, lingers after dark and trouble ensues, forcing his mother (Theron) to use her own magic to send him far away so he can bide time to defeat his seemingly immortal grandfather (Fiennes).
With previous efforts Coraline and ParaNorman, there was always a degree of expectation, but Laika have pulled it off. The story is simple but conveyed with enough beauty to give the impression that this could indeed be a real myth. Perhaps the animated form subscribes to the absurdness of magic, making Kubo all the more powerful with its vivid imagery.
Dealing with family, loss, and the wealth of life, the emotional value elevates the plot. In fact, there’s much more at play: teleology, narratology etc. There’s enough material to get anyone, young or old, thinking about what is off the screen, endowing itself to mythical legends of old in a way that is not often found today.
The voice acting is impeccable. The timing and connection with the characters is mesmerising. The central trio particularly impress, as well as Rooney Mara’s ghostly vocals for the Sisters. Simplicity reigns supreme; even silence is used assuredly, reinforcing the craftsmanship ideals of Kurosawa or even Spielberg to find the beauty in everything.
More often than not, the burden of fantasy leaves the film suspect to potential pitfalls. The faults, however, do not linger in the mind. Even when the film ebbs, it seamlessly eases the focus onto the wonderful scenery. Kubo is a dreamlike yarn that dreams big, and the result is beautiful.
Laika rub shoulders with the Disney/Pixar big guns to produce a rare film with immense, rich storytelling on an epic scale. A near-perfect kids film with minor hitches, and that’s being pernickety. Could well be a classic for many years to come.
Film as a film – 4 / Target Audience – 5 / General Audience – 4
Kubo is in cinemas now
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