In art form is function. What art is can be as important as how art is. Laika are the only game in town for feature length stop-motion animation. That’s why it so hard to get a read on them. There’s no necessity for perfection when you’re the only one selling. The fact has allowed them to create their own off kilter-creative identity. Their own off-kilter films.
Kubo and the Two Strings marks their return to fairytale. After the relatively intricate mechanics of Paranorman and Boxtrolls, Kubo is an incredibly loosely structured film. Having established a quest for our heroes the story ambles between incidents with a dreamlike looseness indicative of their debut. The rejection of conventional narrative works wonders for their artistry. In a relatively brief timeframe the film weaves its way through tundra, desert and caves to arrive at an endless expanse of water. In doing so they are able to use every technique in their tiny little miniaturised arsenal to amaze.
It follows Kubo (Art Parkinson), another entry in Laika’s stable of outcast leads. In this case a young boy, sole carer for his ill mother, compelled to flee home to escape the wrath of the Moon King. Tasked with gathering the lost pieces of his late father’s armour which hold the power to defeat him. Joined by the sardonic Monkey (Charlize Theron), a charm brought to life, and the excitable Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a cursed samurai. Minus the details it’s a story pretty much as old as storytelling itself. Sometimes it’s best to stick to the basics.
The bare bones of course allow director Travis Knight and scriptwriters Marc Haimes and Chris Butler to lash their own flesh to it. Exploring concepts of ostracism, death and family all staples of Laika’s films but which here are allowed time to properly be expressed. They’ve always been getting away with things that shouldn’t have been in PG rated films. Here even the state of play doesn’t even seem PG, they clearly place a lot of faith in their audience. Judging by the reactions in my screening, that faith is well placed.
And the film is amazing. Aside from a denouement that doesn’t really work and an ongoing plot thread of Kubo being a ‘storyteller’ that feels a little self-indulgent and doesn’t really amount to anything, it’s a total joy. McConaughey and Theron sell the hell out of their characters and their interplay is one of the best parts of the film.
In the end, it’s hard. I’m biased. I’ve managed to see all of Laika’s films in a cinema. Like, even when I wasn’t watching films I was dragged to see Coraline. Paranorman I saw in my hometown’s small shitty two-screen. I’m trying to be objective but there’s no world in which I will not like a stop-motion film. No universe in which I will not like a Laika film. So long as they keep making films this good it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.