For the last 15 years, LAIKA Studios has amused, entertained, amazed, and, in some cases, downright terrified audiences with their stop-motion animation tales that continually place children at the center, offering a chance for audiences old and young to see the world in a new way. In celebration of their 15 years, LAIKA has partnered with Shout! Factory to release special editions of four of their five releases: Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012), The Boxtrolls (2014), and Kubo and the Two Strings (2016). Each release, dubbed LAIKA Studios Edition, includes a remastered version of the film, bonus materials new and old, as well as a written foreword by a notable author exploring the respective film. Additionally, to add to the fun, both Coraline and ParaNorman are returning to theaters via Fathom Events on August 24th and November 16th, respectively, so that audiences can reenter each story or experience it for the first time in the theater. Rather than releasing them all at once, Shout! Factory is offering Coraline and The Boxtrolls first on August 31st, with ParaNorman and Kubo coming available on September 14th. In this fourth and final home release review, let’s dive into director Travis Knight’s (Bumblebee) directorial debut, the fourth LAIKA release, Kubo and the Two Strings.
Along the shore, up in a small cave near a small village of Japan, lives a young boy, Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) and his mother (voiced by Charlize Theron). By day, he goes to the village to tell fantastic stories accompanied by animated origami as a means of earning funds to care for them both. By night, his mother regales him with the stories that he will later pass along. Theirs is a simple, but easy existence as long as Kubo abides by his mother’s single rule: don’t go out at night. He learns exactly why when he stays out too long during the Bon Festival, only to have the stories of his youth come to life. Now, it’s up to him to right some long gestating wrongs by going on a hero’s journey only Kubo can complete.
If you’re interested in a spoiler-free take, here’s my initial 2014 theatrical review of Kubo. Moving forward, there may be spoilers.
Though ParaNorman is, for me, the highest rated LAIKA Studios film, Kubo is by far my favorite. I love the setting, the mythology, the design work of the characters, and the emotional power which runs throughout, never losing any bit of heft as the adventure goes on, building up until its thrilling end. The notion of memory being something that keeps the people closest to you alive — not corporally, but emotionally — is lovely, especially as EoM editor Crystal Davidson and I raise two children who will never truly get to remember their great-grandparents or even one of their grands. Our memories are what keep the lost from staying gone forever — an idea that goes beyond any one culture and has certainly been used in multiple films from a variety of periods and countries. Where the film falls flat for me, keeping it away from my top spot, is the central cast. As fantastic as they all are — Parkinson, Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara — they are not of Japanese descent, undermining the potency of the narrative by white-washing the tale. There are plenty of notable Japanese actors included in the cast — George Takei (Star Trek) and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat) among them — but this was a particularly fantastic opportunity to lend a little cultural credence, a little more authenticity, to an already wonderful story.
Whether this one is at the top of the LAIKA charts or not, the bonus materials are a big draw from an already good release. Like the other LAIKA Studios Editions, Kubo includes all of the previous released materials and more. You get the entire feature as storyboards; you get individual featurettes on each of the main puppets; you get three different galleries highlighting character, concept, and behind the scenes; and you get a lengthy featurette from LAIKA crew talking about the making of the film. As with the other films before it, there is an accompanying essay with concept art, behind the scenes stills, and images from the making of the movie, but this time from noted critic and animation historian Charles Solomon. As a fan of the film already, what I enjoyed most is the 13-minute featurette “Confronting The Epic Challenges Of Kubo and the Two Strings” as you got to hear from the LAIKA team themselves about just how different and difficult this project was compared to the three previous films. Like how to animate Kubo with his robes so that they looked natural as they moved and the design to use an origami-like style to create something more believable or how the giant skeleton unknowingly became an insurmountable task worthy of the “Sword Unbreakable.” Details like these in this and the other film-specific featurettes across the LAIKA editions are the most attractive aspects of these new versions as they allow fans to get even closer to the films they love. Having remastered picture is well and good, as is having discs with new art, but the film is essentially the same, so these bonus features have to be worth the price of admission.
Despite my single misgiving, Kubo and the Two Strings is just as emotionally evocative and adventurous as the first time I saw it. Like ParaNorman, Kubo holds a timeless aspect to it which stop-motion animation assists in maintaining. Though technology may change in how LAIKA implements CGI to assist stop-motion, the fact that the bulk of the film, upwards of an easy 90% of it, is crafted by hand makes it strangely impervious to time. As Kubo himself is a storyteller, it feels very fitting for his tale to become one that’s unbreakable, impenetrable, and invulnerable to time.
If you’d like a look at the release before purchasing, here’s a quick walkthrough of what to expect:
Kubo and the Two Strings LAIKA Studios Special Features
- Feature-Length Storyboards (1:32:30)
- Inside LAIKA – Confronting The Epic Challenges Of Kubo and the Two Strings (13:38)
- Inside LAIKA – Revisiting The Puppets With LAIKA’s Animation Team
- Little Hanzo (1:54)
- Monkey (2:02)
- The Sisters (1:46)
- Beetle (1:47)
- Moon King (2:05)
- Mother (2:13)
- Kubo (2:00)
- Character, Concept Art And Behind-The-Scenes Photo Galleries
- Foreword by Charles Solomon, Film critic and animation historian.
Previously Released Special Features
- Audio Commentary With Director/Producer Travis Knight
- Audio Descriptive Track
- “Kubo’s Journey”
- Original Featurettes
Available on Blu-ray/DVD Combo from Shout! Factory September 14th, 2021.