Kubo and the Two Strings review

Laika Studios’ newest animated movie “Kubo and the Two Strings” has received critical acclaim for creating revolutionary animation techniques and for lovingly crafting a memorable story.

The plot follows Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson), a young boy who lives with his sick mother in a small rural town in ancient Japan. He spends his days telling miraculous stories to the people of his village through his magical ability to control paper by playing his mother’s shamisen – a Japanese string instrument. Kubo’s whole world falls apart when he finds himself forced to go on a magical quest accompanied by a snow monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron) and a samurai warrior cursed to look like a large stag beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) to find his father’s legendary suit of armour.

While the movie proves predominantly a children’s movie, it definitely can entertain a wide range of ages. In fact, the film avoids shying away from more mature themes such as death and the afterlife.

Even though it received high praise amongst critics, the movie only pulled in $12 million opening weekend despite its budget $60 million. However, production of Laika’s unknown fifth movie continues to progress.

Innovations in computer animation and special effects have led to the sharp decline of stop motion animation for movies and television. However, Laika Studios has welcomed technology into its mix and used it to their advantage rather than competing with it. They cleverly blend both CGI and 3D printing into their stop motion films, an impressive feat particularly showcased in Kubo. While most sequences in the movie consist predominantly of puppets and sets, the crew adds many special effects, backgrounds, and background characters into the film later on in the editing process.

The opening scene of the movie features CGI water and waves on the open ocean, as well as the use of digital animation to give characters the illusion of magical abilities. Not to mention, technology factored into the production in more ways than just CGI. One of the film’s puppets, a giant skeleton monster, stood at 16 feet tall and involved some of the most complicated rigging the studio has ever dealt with. Other monsters from the film, a series of giant, underwater eyeballs, also proved to be an involved mechanical project. The studio made one single giant eyeball and programmed it to pick up the coordinates on a bowling ball that they then used to control and maneuver its gaze.

Laika’s use of 3D printing continues to improve with each new film. The studio’s technique for facial animation is a form of replacement animation. To start, the artists animate the character’s facial movements on the computer. Then, they break it down into individual frames and have each of them 3D printed. Lastly, the animators have to switch the faces out on the puppets as they go frame by frame to give the illusion of motion. This incredibly time consuming process makes Laika’s movies so unique.

According to Laika’s rapid prototyping director, Brian McLean, the character Coraline had roughly 207,000 different potential facial expressions, Norman of ParaNorman and Eggs – the protagonist of The Boxtrolls – each had roughly one and a half million potential facial expressions, and Kubo has roughly 48 million different face combinations.

This blending of animation techniques gives Laika movies that extra pinch of magic, and definitely made “Kubo and the Two Strings” incredible and technologically ground breaking.