Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 2016. Laika Entertainment. Story by Shannon Tindle, Marc Haimes, Screenplay by Marc Haimes, Chris Butler. Cinematography by Frank Passingham. Produced by Travis Knight, Arianne Sutner. Music by Dario Marianelli. Production Design by Daniel R. Casey, Nelson Lowry. Costume Design by Deborah Cook. Film Editing by Christopher Murrie. Academy Awards 2016. Golden Globe Awards 2016. Washington Film Critics Awards 2016.
Kubo spends his days playing ballads in the town square, his talent for music so powerful that origami figures magically compose themselves as he sings his fantastical tales (his endless source of paper a mystery best left undisturbed). At night he goes home to his melancholy mother, who begs him to stay hidden from the night sky and the dangers it possesses: she is the daughter of the Moon King who descended to Earth for love of a human warrior, and her father and evil sisters already took one of Kubo’s eyes in an effort to reclaim him for themselves and are still looking for him. Kubo discovers that the key to defeating his evil family members is to find the location of his dead father’s suit of armour, so he sets out on a quest accompanied by a protective monkey and a giant armored beetle to put the past to right, along the way endangered by challenges both from nature and the more mystical realms. Superbly beautiful animation highlights a story whose dark and light elements don’t blend all that comfortably, the whole thing feels like it wants to be scary but is afraid of complaints from sensitive parents , while the fanciful representation of feudal Japan is tempered by dialogue that is strains too hard to sound like you’re watching Middle Americans. Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey don’t suit their characters and Art Parkinson sounds like an overly trained, disingenuous theatre kid in the lead, with Rooney Mara the most effective as the eerie sisters who give our little hero a run for his money. It’s not a full winner, but in an age overly saturated with computer animated options, it’s unlike anything else out there.