Laika doesn’t distinguish from other American animation studios simply in its devotion to the lost art of stop-motion, but also in the sorts of stories it is willing to tell. A Laika movie will be, generally speaking, a lot gritter, grimier, and creepier than anything you’ll see coming out of Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks Animation. After bringing its penchant for all things eerie to the realms of home horror (Coraline), the undead (ParaNorman), and a reversal of the classic man vs. creature story (The Boxtrolls), Laika is now using Kubo and the Two Strings to branch out into much vaster territory.
In truth, Kubo looks to be Laika’s first real adventure story. Whereas Coraline took place in the present day boonies, ParaNorman in a typical Midwestern suburb, and Boxtrolls in a Dickensian-era English city, Kubo brings the Laika shtick to Ancient Japan—really, the perfect setting for the company’s special brand of madness.
In the trailer, we see all that we’ve loved of Laika to date—haunting imagery, gentle wiseassery, and that inimitable sort of earnestness that’s so rare in contemporary animation—melded with an aura of classic adventure that feels new to, though rather befitting, of the studio. The fleeting glimpses we get into Kubo’s cross-world journeys remind us of a breed of animated cinema that dates back, perhaps, to the original golden era of Disney. The trailer mesmerizes with leaps between realism and the supernatural, with dazzling landscapes and denizens, and with one hell of an instrumental cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
But of course, Laika isn’t throwing the baby out with the bathwater. As immersed as the story does seem in its period setting and mystical ambiance, that doesn’t expense the odd sassy monkey (Charlize Theron) or bumbling knight-wannabe (Matthew McConaughey, affecting his best George Clooney). As per usual, smirks and chuckles abound.
We’ll have to wait for the film to know if the recipe works in balance, but we’re excited enough for Kubo and the Two Strings to be going full force in both directions.
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Images: Focus Features