THE MOVIE GUY: ‘Kubo’ visually brilliant, but slow

Published 9:54 pm Thursday, August 18, 2016

I absolutely love Pixar movies and I’m thrilled by the resurgence of Walt Disney animation, but I must admit that it’s Laika Studios that has produced some of my favorite animated movies in recent years. From “Coraline” to “The Box Trolls” and “ParaNorman,” Laika has a way of turning kid-scary stories into amazing works of stop-motion art.

Their latest effort, “Kubo and the Two Strings,” takes a Japanese fairytale and turns it into a trippy adventure that also works as a touching story about one boy as he matures into an adult. Our hero, Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) is a young, one-eyed boy who is caring for his half-mad mother by working as a street performer. Kubo has the magical ability to manipulate objects when he plays his three stringed guitar, so he entertains the villagers with tales of his fallen father, a samurai warrior of great renown.

Kubo’s childhood is interrupted when he inadvertently awakens malevolent spirits, forcing him to flee with some new friends. Charlize Theron plays an ever-serious talking Monkey, while Matthew McConaughey, of all people, plays a comically boastful giant beetle/samurai warrior. Along with a tiny, mute origami warrior, the questing friends set out in search of Kubo’s father’s magical armor, helmet and sword, thinking it to be the only way to save Kubo from a pair of relentless spirits (Rooney Mara). It all leads up to a showdown with the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), who just happens to be Kubo’s grandfather.

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This is obviously a very strange tale when seen through Western eyes, but that’s part of the film’s exotic charm. The story is a little slow by American family film standards, although there are still plenty of action sequences and funny characters to keep young kids engaged.

The animation is once again superb. The craftsmanship on display here is so polished that one of my friends swore that it must have been computer generated and not painstakingly hand-manipulated stop motion. Credit the animator’s character design, world creation and top-shelf animation skills for a film that looks and feels like a completely unique family film experience.

I do admit that Laika Studios has never quite had Pixar’s skill with telling an emotional story, opting for interesting characters and story setup instead. Those story problems are still evident in “Kubo,” giving us a fascinating adventure and some interesting characters, but it doesn’t quite stick an emotionally satisfying ending.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” is a bit slow and quite strange, but it’s also a feast for the eyes. The end result is a very good family film, but one that mom and dad might just like more than their children.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at