Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Kubo and the Two Strings


People keep writing the obituary for stop-motion animation, and then something like this comes along. It was produced by Laika, the successor to Will Vinton Studios, probably best known for the claymation commercials for California raisins and the song “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” They did a lot of other stuff, of course.

Technically it is stunning. Two things made it better than anything I’ve seen in the genre. First, they used green screens for the deep backgrounds, a compromise with CGI that greatly enhanced the beauty of the film. And two, 3D printing has revolutionized this art form. They can now print literally thousands of character heads, and thus are able to make infinitely more expressions on the characters. There are little snippets in the credits of just how this is all done, and once more I wonder at the people who are patient enough to do this stuff. Move 100 things a tenth of an inch, snap the picture, then move them all again another tenth of an inch. I’d be bugfuck crazy after the first workday.

(Since we saw this on a Netflix DVD we were not allowed to see any of the deeper “Making of” shorts. Well, that really sucks, doesn’t it? But a lot of the DVDs we rent these days are like that. You have to buy a copy to see the extras.)

So the thing looks stunning. (I said that already, didn’t I? Well, it bears repeating!) But all that art and artifice don’t mean shit if you don’t have a story. This is a very good one. It is deeply into Japanese art and culture, and has a protagonist I cared for. It is a world where magic is at work, and I never doubted for a minute that it was all real. It is not just a series of breakneck action scenes, thank Saint Walt, though it has some real dillies. The creation of a big ship out of leaves and the thousands of origami animals that come to life … well, it is just stunning. Stunning!

In a few weeks this film will be going up against not one, but two films from the Disney behemoth. I saw Zootopia and quite liked it. Haven’t seen Moana yet, but I fully expect to be wonderfully entertained. And I’m not saying this one should beat either of them. What I am saying is that it’s a very, very, very good year for stunning animated movies!