Kubo and the Two Strings (4 stars)

Kubo and the Two Strings

Stunning stop-motion fantasy animation from the team behind Coraline and ParaNorman

This meticulously assembled stop-motion adventure is the fourth feature from LAIKA, the animation studio behind Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls. The directorial debut of CEO Travis Knight, Kubo generates serious kudos for LAIKA, combining humour and emotional story-telling with breath-taking animation.

Set in ancient Japan, the film focuses on one-eyed origami expert Kubo (voiced by Game of Thrones' Art Parkinson), a young boy who lives in an isolated cave and has having been hunted since birth by his evil grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). When his location is discovered, Kubo joins forces with no-nonsense Monkey (Charlize Theron) and goofy half-human, half-insect warrior Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) and embarks on a quest to find three magical artifacts (the Sword Unbreakable, the Armor Impenetrable and the Helmet Invulnerable) that will help Kubo defeat the Moon King.

The stop-motion animation is breath-takingly beautiful throughout, drawing visual inspiration from both origami and Japanese woodblock printing. This is coupled with striking character design work, including a genuinely terrifying giant red skeleton creature that might prove too scary for young children.

It's all augmented by some excellent voice performances. Parkinson imbues Kubo with infectious courage and spirit, while Theron's deadpan delivery as Monkey makes a strong comic contrast with McConaughey's bumbling, Buzz Lightyear-like Beetle. Similarly, Fiennes is suitably sinister as the Moon King and there's spooky support from Rooney Mara as a pair of scary witch sisters.

The emotionally literate script doesn't shy away from exploring some dark places and addressing some complex themes, with sensitive, moving observations on death and the grieving process. That said, the plot is occasionally a little confusing in terms of what is meant to be story-telling / fantasy within the film and what isn't – it's never entirely clear how exactly Kubo lost his eye, for example – although that ultimately enhances the charming dream-like atmosphere of the narrative.

General release from Fri 9 Sept.

Kubo and the Two Strings

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 1h 42min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Travis Knight
  • Cast: Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey, Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes, Brenda Vaccaro, George Takei
  • UK release: 9 September 2016

One-eyed origami expert Kubo (Parkinson) joins forces with no-nonsense Monkey (Theron) and goofy human/insect warrior Beetle (McConaughey) on a quest to defeat the Moon King (Fiennes). Breathtakingly beautiful stop-motion animation, maybe too scary for young kids, but with plenty of humour, fine voice performances and a…