The question of which animation studio belongs in the pantheon of mainstream animation alongside Disney/Pixar and DreamWorks has a few viable answers.
Illumination Entertainment is definitely the biggest commercial juggernaut with the Despicable Me franchise, and Blue Sky Studios has the advantage of longevity, pumping out films such as the Ice Age series and the Rio films since 2002.
However, I firmly believe that Laika Studios is deserved of the honor of being one of the main representatives of great animation in the 21 st century.
The studio has not only kept the endangered style of stop-motion animation alive in the mainstream circuit, but they’ve done it in a way that has broken boundaries.
Films like Coraline and Paranorman are incredibly dark compared to their much more traditional contemporaries, and the latter of these two is the first mainstream animated film to feature a homosexual character.
Kubo and the Two Strings, while not as horror-oriented as the studios first two affairs, is one the greatest achievements in its catalogue.
Since the studio’s debut film, Laika have been heralded for the high caliber of animation in their films, and Kubo is no different.
The fluidity of the animation is striking throughout the film, as well as being incredibly expressive at the right times.
The fusion of stop-motion and CGI is seamless to the point where it gets hard to tell which format is used at what time and is a perfect example of how to fuse both old and new formats for the new age.
Scenes in which Kubo (Art Parkinson) uses his magic shamisen to control origami to form things from living miniature samurai to a life-size ship are spectacles that any animation geek will drop their jaw at.
For the more typical viewer, the immaculately formed action scenes are nothing to glance over, especially the battle between Kubo’s guardian Monkey (Charlize Theron) and one of Kubo’s evil aunts upon a sinking ship is incredibly captivating.
But while the animation is definitely the most notable quality of the film, what keeps Kubo so gripping is how much passion oozes out of it.
It doesn’t come out as something that was directed by a CEO that only cares about the business portion of the industry.
Rather, it was directed by a CEO that cares for the art form and telling a story.
Laika CEO Travis Knight’s directorial debut after acting as lead animator for the studios previous films that there’s true heart placed into each movie that comes from Knight and Laika.
The relationship between our three main characters feels real; never before have a magic boy, a monkey, and a beatle-samurai hybrid seemed so much like a genuine family (in more than one way).
The scenes featuring the townspeople of Kubo’s village near the beginning of the film are wonderful showcases of how charming these characters are written, especially Kubo’s elderly chum Kameyo (Brenda Vaccaro).
It’s fitting that a movie by Laika Studios would center on a child who manipulates origami to create things that are truly magical.
Parallels can be made between the titular character of the movie and the studio that brought this character to life.
Both find ways to tell wonderful stories with organic elements, whether it be paper or puppets, in ways that screams ingenuity.
What the creation of this film proves is that the people over at Laika obviously have a deep appreciation for the art form of origami; whether it’s Kubo’s mystifying uses of paper to fight evil or scenes in dreams made out of paper, their portrayal of the craft a wonder to experience.
The entirety of the film is an experience, one that shouldn’t be passed over by any fan of quality filmmaking.
Two of the film’s main characters may suffer from memory loss, but Kubo is a film that won’t nor shouldn’t be forgotten about.