Star Rating:

Kubo and The Two Strings

Director: Travis Knight

Release Date: Friday 9th September 2016

Genre(s): Adventure, Animation, Family

Running time: 101 minutes

Kubo lives a quiet, normal life in a small shoreside village until a spirit from the past turns his life upside down by re-igniting an age-old vendetta. This causes all sorts of havoc as gods and monsters chase Kubo who, in order to survive, must locate a magical suit of armor once worn by his late father, a legendary Samurai warrior.

Laika Studios has made a name for itself as one of the most imaginative animation studios working today. The likes of Coraline, Parnorman and The Boxtrolls were deeply inventive, highly original tales with beautifully realised animation and offbeat stories to boot. While these may not have translated into major commercial successes, they've all been the subject of critical acclaim.

So it goes with Kubo And The Two Strings, another defiantly original story about a one-eyed superhero child who goes on a surreal, fantastical adventure across feudal Japan with the help of a talking monkey and a bug-shaped Samurai warrior. Ably voiced by Game of Thrones' Art Parkinson, Kubo is a precocious child who holds great power, but does not understand the great peril he's in until it's too late and thus begins the story. Parkinson's characterisation of Kubo is interesting, if a little one-note. He's a smart child and knows that he has abilities, but uses them in a somewhat thoughtless manner. It's only when Monkey is introduced, voiced by Charlize Theron, that he begins to see things more clearly. Soon after, Beetle - voiced by Matthew McConaughey - appears and then the "family dynamic" appears.

The interplay between Theron and McConaughey is unforced and natural; even though one's a talking monkey and the other is a Samurai dressed like a beetle. Despite it being a high-fantasy adventure with sorcerers and spells, the dialogue between them all flows easily and gently and there are some truly emotional moments between them all. Theron is all business and no humour whilst McConaughey is something of a lovable oaf. Between them, they act as the film's heart and soul, making for an unforgettable pairing of talents. Pursuing the trio is Rooney Mara, who voices two truly terrifying characters known only as The Sisters. They appear at various points throughout the film and make for some truly hairy action setpieces. After all, everyone's carrying a sword so why wouldn't they use it? The only miscasting, as such, is with Ralph Fiennes, who appears in the third act and acts as the film's big bad. It's a fine performance from him, but nothing terribly unique about it and acts a missed opportunity.

The screenplay, written by Paranorman's Chris Butler and newcomer Marc Haimes, has a great amount of flourish to it and does, admittedly, take itself a little seriously in places. The opening scene literally orders the audience - and more pointedly its younger members - to stay quiet, refuse fidgeting and blink only if they must. Of course, the visuals are so clearly and finely made that it'd be hard not to. Where the film falters slightly is in the execution of the story. There are parts of the film, particularly surrounding Rooney Mara's character, that gets quite disturbing and scary. Of course, it's all a matter of perspective, but you do get the sense that one or two portions of the story might be somewhat traumatising for very young viewers.

That said, Kubo And The Two Strings is a daring piece of animation that deserves to be seen. It's rare to see something as truly original as this in a mainstream setting, so here's hoping more will come from it.