This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Laika Entertainment is doing for Oregon and stop-motion animation what Pixar Animation Studios has done for the Bay Area and computer animation: setting a standard for visually dazzling and emotionally satisfying movies.
After such fascinating movies as "Coraline" (2009), "ParaNorman" (2012) and "The Boxtrolls" (2014), Laika has created its greatest masterpiece: "Kubo and the Two Strings," a richly detailed and heart-aching story steeped in the powerful imagery of Japanese folk tales.
"If you must blink, do it now," Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson, Rickon Stark from "Game of Thrones"), a one-eyed boy, tells his audience in the village square. He strums the three strings on his shamisen for emphasis, and the tale begins.
The music makes Kubo's papers come to life, folding themselves into intricate origami characters that engage in ferocious battles. Sometimes he leaves his audience hanging, so he can rush before sunset to his home, a cave at the edge of the sea, where his mother wakes from her catatonic stupor to make their dinner.
One evening, Kubo stays out past sunset, against his mother's orders. He is attacked by two masked phantoms, and Mother uses all her strength and magic to transport her son to safety.
Kubo wakes to find himself far from home, protected by Monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron), his favorite childhood figurine brought to life by Mother's magic. Monkey tells Kubo he must find the three elements of armor that belonged to his father, a great samurai warrior long thought to be dead.
In the course of his quest, Kubo and Monkey are joined by Beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), an amnesiac samurai cursed to live as an insect.
Monkey tells Kubo the story of how his mother fell in love with his father, leaving behind the world of immortals. Those masked women are his mother's sisters (voiced by Rooney Mara), who want to take Kubo up to live with their father, the Moon King (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) who's also the one who stole Kubo's other eye.
First-time director Travis Knight, a lead animator on Laika's other three movies, and his talented crew take Kubo and his protectors through stunning vistas and strange lands from underwater eyes to a cave inhabited by a massive skeleton creature.
The fact that these things are being painstakingly moved through stop-motion animation makes them all the more wonderful to behold. The stop-motion technique gives a certain tactile feel to the characters and settings, making them feel more "real" than most computer-animated films. (Laika doesn't forsake technology it uses green-screen to digitally combine elements and 3-D printers to make perfect copies of the characters' faces to simulate mouth movement.)
The script by Mark Haimes (who shares story credit with Shannon Tindle) and Chris Butler (who wrote and co-directed "ParaNorman") has the feel of folklore, moving effortlessly from the "natural" world of the village to the "spirit" realm of the Moon King. This duality is reinforced as the story unfolds its secrets with a sort of dream logic.
When the elements come together, the result is gorgeous and touching. As Kubo learns his family's story and discovers his musical and magical legacy, we in the audience also feel transported to a place where storytelling has indescribable power.
'Kubo and the Two Strings'
A boy learns his family's mystical legacy, and takes up an epic quest, in this beautifully rendered stop-motion animated tale.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, Aug. 19.
Rating • PG for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril.
Running time • 101 minutes.