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Kubo and the Two Strings - LAIKA Studios Edition

Shout Factory // PG // September 14, 2021
List Price: $22.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Kurt Dahlke | posted October 18, 2021 | E-mail the Author
Kubo and the Two Strings:

Kubo and the Two Strings, (2016) stop-motion animation studio Laika's fourth film, represents a leap into maturity for a studio already pretty steeped in headiness. While the first three movies aren't exactly kids' stuff, for a variety of reasons, the themes of love, loss, adult fallibility and the fragility of families found within Kubo and the Two Strings are profound and affecting, holding up to multiple viewings. Kubo is also a thrilling and often hilarious adventure too, one that not only engages on a purely cinematic level, but that also expands the boundaries of stop-motion animation. Is it Laika's best film? Sure, though I haven't seen Missing Link (2019) yet …

Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young Japanese boy of about 12 years, living with his mother in a cave outside the village. Mom (Charlize Theron) is comatose a lot of the time, coming to life mostly when telling stories of her late husband, Kubo's father. During the day, Kubo heads to the village as a mendicant, only for his alms he spins wild yarns, using tiny origami models animated by magic to enliven the tale. (An aside, Kubo has an elderly friend, also a mendicant. I asked my child, as it wasn't made clear; "what does she do[to earn her donations]? "I think she just begs." was the answer. This set me off to be even more melancholic regarding this story. What a world we live in - as represented by cinema - where a person needs to, and can eke out a living, ‘just begging'? What does ‘begging' even mean?)

OK, musing asides over. Kubo is also, unfortunately, beset by his Aunts, evil twin goddesses who desire to blind Kubo, thus enabling him to ascend to godhood as well, even though his godly family takes a dim and evil view of humanity. Thus, Kubo is forced on a quest to gather three magical items, a helmet, armor, and a sword, which will aid him in breaking free of his unwanted legacy. On this quest, he is joined by a magical monkey and amusing human-beetle-hybrid samurai. Following are stunning set pieces, epic battles that recall Shaw Brothers pictures, gorgeous cinematography and production design, and a coda that is quite emotionally affecting.

Though as subtle and realistic as an animated fantasy can be, with Kubo struggling to relate to his mother, and learning how to work with the odd friends who come to his aid, Kubo and the Two Strings shines quite brightly as an action movie. The central set-piece involves a giant skeleton, and the ensuing battle is dizzying and thrilling. It's here where the memory-challenged Beetle (voiced to perfect effect by Matthew McConaughey) comes into his own, and Monkey shows her maternal fierceness. It's also where Laika stretches its muscles, innovating the stop-motion methods to create something heretofore unseen (as detailed in the supplemental features).

Kubo and the Two Strings cements Laika studios' position as industry leading animators. Directed with sensitivity and strength by studio head Travis Knight, Kubo's rollicking tale of adventure and the troubles a familial legacy can bring contains everything the discerning movie fan expects from Laika, and then some. Characters live and breathe, battles generate real feelings of peril, and humor plus heartfelt emotion are the name of the game. If you haven't added this to your collection, the Laika Studios Edition, with plenty of extras, new and old should probably be the one. At that, it's a member of the DVD Talk Collector Series.


The DVD

Video:
This new 1080p Widescreen presentation at a 1.78:1 ratio improves upon the earlier Blu-ray release, with sharper contrast and deeper, brighter color reproduction. Black levels are deep too, and overall the image is sharp and clean, handling motion well and delivering a great image, especially where the truly lush scenery is concerned.


Sound:
Audio options are English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, and French 5.1 Dolby Digital. A robust dynamic range accentuates the contrast between sounds of combat and the brilliant score.Other audio elements sound great also, mixed appropriately with dialog, which is clean, clear, and crisp. This a great, enveloping mix.


Extras:
Director Travis Knight contributes a quite thoughtful and illuminating Commentary Track (ported over from the earlier Blu-ray release), plus, ported over, is the 28-minute Kubo's Journey featurette, an informative and fun making-of extra. Two short Featurettes of the EPK variety are included, and a Trailer, rounding out the original extras. New to the mix are Feature-Length Storyboards, of interest primarily to hard-core animation cinephiles, I'd imagine, and six minutes worth of Stills Galleries. There are also two additional New Inside Laika featurettes, one about 13 minutes long, going into detail about the behind-the-scenes efforts to get the movie made, and about 13 minutes total of puppet-creation specifics. All-in-all, it's a pretty great slate of extras.


Final Thoughts:
Kubo and the Two Strings cements Laika studios' position as industry leading animators. Directed with sensitivity and strength by studio head Travis Knight, Kubo's rollicking tale of adventure and the troubles a familial legacy can bring contains everything the discerning movie fan expects from Laika, and then some. Characters live and breathe, battles generate real feelings of peril, and humor plus heartfelt emotion are the name of the game. If you haven't added this to your collection, the Laika Studios Edition, with plenty of extras, new and old should probably be the one. At that, it's a member of the DVD Talk Collector Series.

www.kurtdahlke.com

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