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Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

LAIKA's fourth feature animated film and Travis Knight's directorial debut, Kubo and the Two Strings, is easily the most visually resplendent and emotionally moving entry for the animation studio. Utilizing new technology in the stop-motion animation process, including 3D printing for stop motion puppet faces to provide a wider expression range, LAIKA has once again produced an animated delight that is astoundingly beautiful while simultaneously being devastatingly bittersweet with its story.

In Kubo and the Two Strings, young Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) embarks on an adventure with guardians Monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron) and Beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) in order to reclaim his father's lost armor, the only thing that can protect him from the villainous Sisters (voiced by Rooney Mara) and Moon King (voiced by Ralph Fiennes).

The story immediately pulls the audience in with a stunning opening sequence that you have to see to believe that stop-motion achieved it. While Kubo undergoes many difficulties on his quest, including some pivotal losses, he never loses his optimism and his ability to see the good in humanity. In fact, he is LAIKA's happiest character, possessing the most amount of happy facial expressions which is ironic considering the melancholy tone the film possesses especially in the final act.

The film also boasts incredible feats in stop motion animation, including several action sequences that were certainly impossible to achieve only several years ago. It's astounding how far the medium has come and how LAIKA continues to push the boundaries with each subsequent film. The most incredible action sequence has to be the one involving our heroes battling a giant skeleton, which in reality is an 18 foot stop-motion puppet and is the largest stop-motion puppet in existence. The final battle in the film is also incredible and features what is quite possibly the most incredible stop-motion puppet in any of LAIKA's films.

The level of detail is amazing and you'll wish that you could go through this film frame by frame to appreciate every minute detail of the world and characters that LAIKA has created. From Kubo's origami creatures he uses in his story telling to the ship constructed of leaves, each frame consists of a visual feast for the eyes. It's impossible to look away. Thank goodness for DVD releases so that we can all relive this film and fully appreciate all the detail constructed with love by LAIKA.

While the voice cast is sadly lacking in diversity, all give stunning and memorable performances. Rooney Mara is incredible as the Sisters, sounding as though she revels in their mayhem and fully exuding their anger towards Kubo's mother regarding past betrayals. The most incredible performance though has got to be Ralph Fiennes as the Moon King. He is masterful at sounding inviting and caring before quickly transitioning into fury and rage, sending fear down deep into the hearts of the audience. What else can you expect though from Lord Voldemort himself?

Dario Marinelli's score for the film is superb and provides an exhilarating soundtrack that articulates and interweaves with Kubo's tale. Regina Spektor's cover of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is also hauntingly beautiful and incredibly fitting for the film. Be sure to stay during the credits for beautiful 2D animation interpretations of the characters as well as a surprise clip halfway illustrating the stop motion process with the giant skeleton.

Kubo and the Two Strings is a film that any animation aficionado cannot afford to miss and is certainly worth a viewing in 3D if you can. This incredible LAIKA film is currently playing in US theaters and will be released in the UK on Friday, September 9.