Review Date: 8/28/16
Cast: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Brenda Vaccaro, Mara Rooney, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
An astonishing and visually stunning animated masterpiece from the special effects wizards at Laika. A young boy named Kubo (Art Parkinson) earns a living as a street performer in a small Japanese village. At night he takes care of his mentally and physically ailing mother, who is little more than a hollow and broken shell. When a vengeful spirit from the past comes looking for Kubo, he is forced to flee the village and embark on a quest to recover a magical suit of armor. Aiding him in his adventure are a monkey (Charlize Theron), a samurai beetle (Matthew McConaughey), and an origami warrior named Hanzo. Through numerous hardships, Kubo learns the true meaning of love, compassion, and sacrifice.
First of all, it's a heart-wrenching tale and I didn't bring nearly enough tissues to the theater with me, which resulted in my shirt becoming a tear-soaked snotty mess. It was very embarrassing and slightly disgusting, but thankfully no one was sitting near me. As with all of Laika's productions, the animation is exquisite and you can't help but marvel at the craftsmanship. It's so breathtaking that I can't even wrap my head around how they achieved the final result. The soundtrack is emotionally resonant and features an appropriately moving rendition of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by Regina Spektor. The story is skillfully crafted and boldly addresses a number of decidedly mature themes related to death, illness, and loss, but still manages to keep a somewhat lighthearted tone. While the characters represent well-worn stereotypes, their actions are genuine, self-consistent, and believable. The film has its fair share of juvenile and goofy moments, but it never insults the audience or betrays the narrative for the sake of a laugh. Only at the very end does the film start to stumble, and the overblown climax is a bit too preachy and forcefully sentimental to take seriously.
The vocal performances are superb, and Art Parkinson does an excellent job of expressing the wide range of emotions that Kubo experiences. Charlize Theron delivers an incredible and awe-inspiring performance as Monkey, and sounds uncannily like Scarlett Johansson. Matthew McConaughey seems sorely miscast as the dim-witted Beetle, but gives a fine performance. Brenda Vaccaro, Mara Rooney, George Takei, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa also lend their talents to the delightful cast of characters. "Kubo" is an outstanding accomplishment in both technical achievement and story telling, and deserves a much wider audience than it's likely to get. It's Laika's best film to date, and I'm excited to see what they come up with next.