A mature and gorgeous stop-motion–animated film about feudal Japan and a family’s mythical legacy? Summer movies should always be this smart.
For impeccably crafted tearjerkers, leave yourself in the capable hands of Pixar. For something a few notches darker—like this dazzling Edo-period–set animated movie concerning a Japanese fable of devotion and bravery—the wildly inventive stop-motion group Laika has you covered.
Its visual stunner Kubo and the Two Strings—directed by Travis Knight, the lead animator of Laika’s The Boxtrolls and ParaNorman—follows our hero Kubo (Art Parkinson), a resourceful, one-eyed 12-year-old with unrefined powers he inherited from his mother, a god. Carrying the mantle of his deceased samurai father, Kubo draws on his exceptional storytelling gifts, aided by an abundance of colorful origami figures that magically materialize and gracefully fold themselves into his tales. He also scrapes together funds from townspeople to care for his loving, somberly depressed mom, a lonely widow.
Still furious about her marriage to a mere mortal (over though it is), Kubo’s relatives vow vengeance. There are his creepy, immortal twin aunts (Rooney Mara), whose every appearance rivals the unsettling sisters from The Shining, as well as a malicious maternal grandfather (Ralph Fiennes). They decide to track down our young hero to steal his remaining eye and make him “as blind to humanity as they are.” But joined by a quick-witted, protective monkey (Charlize Theron) and a friendly warrior cursed with an erased memory (Matthew McConaughey), Kubo embarks on a journey to retrieve a suit of armor that could save him.
Despite the occasionally labored writing (with attempts at humor that are dry and distancing), Kubo and the Two Strings is swoonworthy in its vibrant visuals that span across unruly seas, lush landscapes and vivid seasonal colors. The film doesn’t quite cut loose to hit emotional high notes, but Regina Spektor’s velvety cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” poignantly completes a sweet, generous film.