KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS. Shout! Factory 4K-Steelbook Review
An 4K Ultra-HD release that deepens appreciation for one of the best animated features of the past decade
During a recent awards ceremony, Guillermo del Toro stated “Animation is cinema. Animation is not a genre for kids, it’s a medium”. Every now and there, there are animated features that hammer home this statement, Kubo and the Two Strings is a perfect example. Soaring soulful stop-motion storytelling, beautiful to behold, and brimming with adventure and emotion.
Set in feudal Japan, Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young one-eyed-boy who lives in relative isolation with his infirm mother. At night, she regales him with fragmented tales of his father Hanzo. A heroic warrior who sacrificed himself to save them both from the wrath of Kubo’s Grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). Kubo’s days are spent entertaining the people of his village, using a magical shamisen (a stringed instrument) to bring origami figures to life to share his stories. One day, while attending a local festival, Kubo breaks the one rule set out by his mother, he doesn’t make it home before dark. Under cover of night, his presence is alerted to the Moon King, who dispatches his other daughters, the twin Sisters (Rooney Mara), to capture their nephew, and deliver his remaining eye to increase their power. Kubo’s mother intervenes with her last remaining magic, sacrificing herself to save her son. When he awakens in a distant land, he finds himself in the companionship of a cranky Monkey (Charlize Theron) and rather jovial Samurai Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), who aid him on a journey to find the pieces of his father’s legendary armor. A quest that will not only offer Kubo defense against the Moon King, btu also reveal the truth about his father’s fate.
LAIKA have long impressed, with features such as Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Box Trolls, blending stunning stop-motion animation with enchanting storytelling, and a deft balance of humor and emotion to appease viewers of all ages. Kubo feels like the cumulation of their efforts, peaking in terms of artistry and overall craft, and a truly indelible grasp of characters and emotion. Taken from a story idea by Shannon Tindle, the script from Marc Haimes and Chris Butler tackle Eastern concepts of death and legacy, albeit with a Western tint.The film opens with the telling of a story, a medium that pervades the film. More than a means of entertainment or escape, it ties to cultural purpose, as a way to remember and connect to what was lost. With the loss of his family, Kubo is sustained by the shards of information that allow make connections and share these memories as a way to sustain loved ones, and heal wounds, even long after they’re gone. The film explores loss with an admirable level of grace and honesty, evoking a with a tangible sadness. But, it is paired with a journey that is both resonant and uplifting. A balance that ensures accessibility for kids, and even resonance within an adult audience.
Under the weight of losing both his parents, Kubo braves a world of colorful locales, giant skeletons, sub-aquatic monsters, and nightmarish aunts. Press pause at any point and what you’ll see on screen is a work of art. The stop-motion work has a lived in, natural quality. As much attention is given to the movement of leaves on the wind or fall of hair across Kubo’s face, as is afforded epic set-pieces featuring giant skeletons. The potency of emotion in the facial animations also stands out and drives home the poignancy of the script, aided by a swelling score from Dario Marianelli. Travis Knight, in his directorial debut, has a firm grasp on both the entertainment and emotional components of the feature, as well as a handle on the overall craft of animation. The result is one of the most exquisitely rendered and emotionally resonant films of the past decade. Animated or otherwise.
This all new release from Shout! Factory is notable in continuing their 4K-UHD foray into LAIKA’s output. This restoration is overseen by the film’s director (and LAIKA CEO) Travis Knight, and Visual Effects Supervisor Steve Emerson. The result is stunning. Strong colors with impressive dynamic range. Deep blacks, and a pristine overall image in terms of clarity and quality. What truly stands out is the level of detail that is unlocked with this restoration. The intricacies of the models and sets. From the texture of sculptes pieces, to the overall aesthetic, it serves as a testament to the craft of LAIKA. As an owner of the original Blu-ray release of the film, this release is a notable improvement in every way.
The film itself comes on both 4K-UHD and Blu-ray formats. This edition is housed in a fancy Steelbook edition, featuring new artwork by Kevin Tong, and liner notes featuring new writings on the film.
- Feature-Length Storyboards: A fascinating glimpse into a more simplistic vision for the film, that showcases what remained and what changed as production began
- Inside LAIKA -Revisiting the Puppets with LAIKA’s Animation Team: An all new collection of short videos (~2 minutes each)where Florian Perinelle, Dan Mackenzie and Rachelle Lambden break down some of the main features of the key models and how they connect to the character design, creation, and performance to bring them to life
- Inside LAIKA — Confronting the Epic Challenges of Kubo and the Two Strings: Another new featurette that pulls together interviews with the animation/design team, who reflect on making the film, and the key challenges (and achievements) that arose during production
- Audio Commentary with Director/Producer Travis Knight: A comprehensive commentary that provides plenty of insights as to the technique and artistry behind the film, challenges of the stop-motion approach, inspirations for the films look and tone, and more
- “Kubo’s Journey”: An expansive featurette that digs into in some of the main scenes and key aspects of the whole film
- Corners of the Earth: A short piece touching on the various locations seen in the film, and how they were realized
- The Myth of Kubo: Another short featurette, this one exploring the emotional themes and ideas that run through the film, and connect all the characters
- Original Featurettes: From the original Blu-ray release, including; an introduction and epilogue by Director Travis Knight, Braving the Elements, Japanese Inspiration, Mythological Monsters, and The Redemptive and Healing Power of Music
- Liner Booklet: Featuring info on the film, as well as an essay from film critic Charles Solomon, who discusses the relevance of Kubo, and how it connects to LAIKA’s other films
- Theatrical trailer & Still Galleries
- All new cover art by Kevin Tong
The Bottom Line
LAIKA’S reputation as storytellers and artists was already evident, but with Kubo and the Two Strings they truly put an indelible stamp on cinema, animated or otherwise. A feast for the eyes as well as the soul, the craft here is only exceeded by the emotional impact these storytellers convey. Shout! Factory have put together an impressive 4K release that is not only visually resplendent, but truly celebrates and deepens appreciation for this stellar stop-motion adventure.