The Golden Age of the mainstream American film industry has come and passed, and with every passing day, major movie studios seem to become more interested in making the most bang for their hundreds of millions of bucks.
But at the theatres this week, hidden among reboots such as “Ben-Hur,” “Pete’s Dragon” and the critically-panned “Suicide Squad,” there is a movie that offers a glimpse of what film should be in a decade otherwise overshadowed by super hero movies and endless animated features from the company that brought us all “Minions.”
“Kubo and the Two Strings” perfectly balances style and substance in the two hours it takes for Kubo to become a hero after washing up on shore as a baby near his bloodied and beaten mother.
Laika Entertainment, the company behind other stop-motion movies such as “Coraline” and “ParaNorman,” is known for its distinctive style of animation that relies upon practical effects and real-life models.
“Kubo” is no exception, although it differs itself from other Laika movies because the people in the movie are represented as they would be in real life. Proportions are mostly correct, at least relative to other characters, and there is less exaggeration in features than, say, the evil button-eyed mother of Coraline.
This helps the movie develop a sense of realism in a colourful world where origami can be commanded with Kubo’s signature shamisen – a traditional three-stringed lute – and where magic definitely exists and should be feared and respected. There are notable exceptions, but the exaggerations make sense for the character, such as the swords embedded in the head of a giant skeleton, or Beetle’s four arms and samurai-like pincers atop his head.
Rather impressively for a movie with such a diverse cast, every character feels important. There is no main or side character who does not have an important and influential role in the story of “Kubo.” Whether it be the old woman who helps Kubo make money with his storytelling skills or the Moon King himself, each character has something to add to the movie and takes nothing away from it.
There is one major problem with “Kubo,” although it is a minor one and should not keep you from seeing this film – the story has been told a thousand times before.
Just like in any typical tabletop role playing game, the movie follows a stereotypical hero’s journey by the dictionary – Kubo literally has to find three pieces of golden armor to defeat a big bad guy who wants to rule humanity.
But what “Kubo” does with the template of the hero’s journey with its unparalleled-in-2016 characterization and breathtaking visuals is what sets it apart from other farmboy-to-greatest-warrior stories.
It deals with the raw emotion of the loss of loved ones.
It not only shows the possibilities of magic, it conveys the feeling of awe one would feel watching Origami come to life as if you were in the crowd hearing Kubo play his shamisen and tell the sometimes fictionalized stories of his samurai father.
“Kubo” is an instant classic, in every definition of the word, and I am unafraid to call it my favorite movie of the past year – yes, even beating out “Finding Dory” and “The Hateful Eight.”
If you must blink, do it before you enter the theatre to see “Kubo,” because you do not want to miss even a second of what may very well win the next Oscar for an animated film.