2016 Certificate: pg

Synopsis

Thriving on tales of heroes but respectful of his mother's wish to keep him close, young storyteller Kubo (Game of Thrones' Art Parkinson) suddenly finds himself on a magical quest to save them both from the vengeful Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). Accompanied by a no-nonsense monkey (Charlize Theron) and a fearless samurai beetle (Matthew McConaughey), Kubo discovers secrets about his family that will steer him towards his own heroic destiny. The stop-motion wizards behind Coraline and The Boxtrolls score another fantastical hit with this triumphant blend of epic storytelling and spellbinding adventure.

Director

  • Travis Knight

Cast

  • Art Parkinson

  • Charlize Theron

  • Matthew McConaughey

  • Ralph Fiennes

  • Rooney Mara

  • George Takei

Review

Steeped in atmosphere and imagination, the only thing that doesn't catch the eye about Laika Entertainment's latest stop-motion wonder is the title.

But don't let that put you off as the people who conjured up ​Coraline​ParaNorman and ​The Boxtrolls whisk us off to ancient Japan for a story of one young hero and his extraordinarily dysfunctional family.

Living high above a fishing village with his widowed mother, the precociously talented Kubo earns his keep by putting on amazing origami shows for the townsfolk.

Alas, that's as much adventure as his increasingly troubled mother will allow, forbidding him to stay out after dark for fear of a supernatural feud with the vindictive Moon King (Fiennes) and his witchy twin daughters (Rooney Mara) which has already cost Kubo one eye and could cost him more.

As (somewhat over-complicated) legend would have it, only by retrieving a magical suit of armour can Kubo and his mother ever be safe.

No sooner has the task been outlined than our intrepid young hero is magicked away to the mythical Far Lands for a Herculean odyssey, only with a few sheaves of paper and a magical lyre instead of jawbones of asses.

Luckily he has company in the form of a grumpy Monkey (Theron) and a gung-ho Beetle (McConaughey, channelling Buzz Lightyear).

Although the story treads a familiar path, there's invention in every encounter as Kubo faces a variety of fabulous beasts on top of the inevitable confrontations with the baddies.

The origami creations are a particular treat, led by a mute yet charismatic paper warrior who proves vital to Kubo's quest.

Drawing on various aspects of Japanese culture and art, director Travis Knight (Laika's CEO) and his team strike an excellent balance between darkness and light across the board - settings, character and mood.

This is perfectly demonstrated in early scenes between Kubo and his melancholy mum, which establish a narrative poignancy before the film cuts to the chase.

Offering a uniquely textured style of animated excellence, it's proof once again that Laika's hands-on methods are more than a match for the machine-tooled perfections of Pixar.

Elliott Noble