Whether it was a martial arts panda, a bunny trying to become a police officer, a talking sausage or puppets having sex 2016 has had its fair share of animations. Varying in quality and success there’s been more of them than disappointing blockbusters this year. ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is the tenth animation I’ve seen in 2016 and there has been plenty of others I’ve avoided. I had high hopes for this animation though, more so than any other, so could it end up on top during a cinematic twelve months covered in cartoons?
The story focuses on a young boy named Kubo, he has magical powers and a dramatic past which soon catches up with him. This causes him to embark on an adventure of epic proportions. If you’ve seen the trailers then you will already know how good this film looks thanks to the wonderful animation. The stop-motion technique makes for a refreshing change and when given the right design and style, which it most definitely receives here, ‘Kubo’ is always a treat for the eye(s). One element that worked very well with this animation was the original music composed by Dario Marianelli. As Kubo’s magic often required him to play his shamisen (a three-stringed Japanese instrument) the score was vital to many scenes in the film. Marianelli copes with this challenge very well capturing the sound of the setting but also the sense of adventure present.
The film boasts an array of fascinating characters which of course required the vocal talents of actors to bring them to life. Art Parkinson has the task of voicing the title character which he accomplishes with confidence, easily being his best role to date. Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey voice Monkey and Beetle, the other good guys. Both do well and they have a good chemistry which results in much of the comedy present in the film. It’s left up to Rooney Mara and Ralph Fiennes to exercise their villainous vocal chords as they play the antagonists here. Both excel in their roles, their characters have some of the best design on show here, but it was Fiennes that impressed me the most. I’ve never not been impressed with Fiennes and this was never going to change with ‘Kubo’, I’d only have liked him to feature slightly more.
However, what was more impressive than the animation, score and performances was the narrative. It was so great to watch a film with such a creative narrative. On paper this shouldn’t have worked, it’s really bonkers when you think about it but it’s the madness of it all that is so enjoyable. Thanks to the beauty of the animation it’s an absolute treat everytime Kubo manipulates his paper into various different shapes to the tune of his shamisen. The over arching quest that he must embark on is full of wonderful moments and has messages that everyone, young and old can learn from. It’s emotive and funny too and gets the balance right most of the time. Again like the performance of Fiennes, I would have liked to have seen some of the elements of the narrative expanded on slightly or dwelt on for longer as some wonderful moments of the narrative just simply don’t last long enough.
Easily living up to hype it’s with great pleasure that I can say that ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is my favourite animation of the year and I think it’s the best too. The narrative is so enchanting from the word go that you get completely swept up in Kubo’s world. The animation, score and voice cast only further help in immersing the audience into ancient Japan. If only given space to breath slightly more at times I’d have said this was damn near perfect…but being perfect wouldn’t be Kubo’s style.
Rating – 9/10
Question: What are your top three animated films of this year?
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