Focus Features 101 minutes PG
This is a wondrous Japanese fable with a complete story and super action sequences. It’s like a Master Class in animation that shows how smooth CGI animation paired with motion capture can look. Who would believe that animated origami could look this amazing in 3D? And it really enhances the story of Kubo, the boy who is searching for answers about his father and the rest of his family.
Kubo, was written by Marc Haimes and by Chris Butler, who wrote ParaNorman and worked on Coraline. Travis Knight was lead animator on both of those films and makes his directorial debut on this one. They wanted to do a story not typically told in animation. He says that this is more than just “a stop-action Samurai film” and it grew into something much bigger than they anticipated. Butler calls it the “most epic thing we’ve ever done.”
They even built a 100 foot skeleton monster they animated they say pushes the boundaries of puppetry and technology. (During the credits, you can see how the monster was made!) They built “eye popping” models of giant eye balls on stalks for the Garden of Eyes. Very imaginative. And they think the Moon Beast, voiced by Ralph Fiennes, is based on a prehistoric fish. It’s pretty scary. But the kids at our screening didn’t flinch. They were totally engaged in the visuals of this beautifully done film.
Kubo is the town story teller who plays his “guitar,” (Shamisen) which brings magical images that help tell his tales. He is well-liked by all. But there’s mystery surrounding why he only has one eye and why he lives there caring for his sick mother. Kubo goes on a journey to find his father’s warrior suit to get answers.
Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey play the Monkey and Beetle who go on a journey with Kubo to find out about his family and, in particular, his father. They bring the right notes of love with humor and sarcasm in contemporary dialogue that was funny.
Young Irish actor, Art Parkinson (Game of Thrones) does a great job, doing voiceover for the first time for this film as Kubo. He thinks kids will react to the bravery, kindness, and sense of forgiveness his character expresses in the film. Also, how the characters were brought to life through origami.
There are times when massive amounts of sheets of paper swirl on the screen as Kubo plays to form incredible images. The transitions are so smooth and creative. Theron calls the film “seamless.”
The soundtrack is also engaging, including a tender version of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” sung by Regina Spector featuring a solo on the Japanese string instrument.
Theron says she was excited to have her own children see a film that is not about a “cookie cutter” family, but one, she says laughing, that is different and even weirder than hers! McConaughey says his family also got into it. He likes that it has good messages about family, love and trust.
Is this worth your bucks? This is a unique film combining the painstaking process of building models to shoot as they’re moved a little at a time with the latest computer technology available. This is a beautiful fantasy, but it’s not only about the visuals. Kubo has a tale to tell.