In February of 2021, it was announced that LAIKA Studios and boutique home media distributor Shout! Factory made a deal to bring LAIKA’s incredible stop-motion films to U.S. audiences’ homes. Toward the end of 2021, Shout! Factory released Blu-ray/DVD combo editions of Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012), The Boxtrolls (2014), and Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) that included both legacy bonus features and brand-new materials created just for the new release. Now, to up the ante, the studio and distributor are releasing these four films upgraded to 4K UHD with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. In December of 2022, Shout! Factory released a regular and steelbook edition of both Coraline and ParaNorman and now it’s The Boxtrolls and Kubo’s turn. So let’s turn our attention to the fourth and final 4K UHD edition from LAIKA Studios and Shout! Factory director Travis Knight’s (Bumblebee) directorial debut, Kubo and the Two Strings.
In a small Japanese village lives musician and storyteller Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson), who spends his days entertaining the villagers with extraordinary tales accompanied by even more extraordinary feats of magic to bring each part of the story to life. But when night is about to fall, he rushes home to his mother (voiced by Charlize Theron) as he’s forbidden to be out at night. But when he fails to heed his mother’s caution, he learns first-hand just how true some of the stories he tells are when his grandfather, the Moon King (voiced by Ralph Fiennes), sends emissaries to capture him and seize his only eye. However, Kubo is protected and, with the aid of some unlikely warriors, he sets out to defeat his grandfather and bring peace to his family once and for all.
If you’re interested in learning about the film and the bonus features, head over to the September 2021 Kubo and the Two Strings LAIKA Studios Edition Blu-ray home release review. Moving forward, this will be focused solely on the 4K UHD edition.
I’m on record as stating that Kubo is my favorite LAIKA tale to date. Even as I’ve grown to appreciate Boxtrolls and Coraline a little more with time, my affinity for Asian cinema and the application here makes me want to watch it the most out of the five films released thus far. There’s so much creativity on display in the way that the paper Kubo manipulates first as a means of telling his stories, then later for other applications of flight and water traversal, but then the craftspeople and animators also work in the form of the paper into other aspects, as well. Though I saw Kubo theatrically in its initial release, it wasn’t until this 4K review that I noticed how the waves in the opening scene possess the imprint of paper sheets. The waves themselves do appear as water, yet the presence of this creative and gentle, yet also forceful means of artistic expression becomes fearsome in the form. Later, when Kubo goes for the Sword Unbreakable, even the giant skeleton has aspects which appear constructed by way of paper mâché. These aspects repeat in a variety of ways that seem all the more apparent in the 4K edition with the increased detail afforded by the increased data on-disc. The HDR only adds to the immersion in scenes like the battle on the boat between The Sisters (voiced by Rooney Mara) as Kubo dives below the water to find the Breastplate Impenetrable, the improved color range makes the already dynamic sequence more beautiful. There’s greater difference in color between the white moon, the blue night sky, and the dark clouds overhead. Add to that the greens, reds, and yellows which make up the menace under the water as Kubo nearly is eaten by the Garden of Eyes, the entire sequence carries a greater intensity. But if you want an example of where the 4K UHD and HDR really demonstrate the improvement in quality, look to the armor worn by Beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey). In the moment before the group enters into where the giant skeleton emerges, you can see the varying shades of wear and their respective color on Beetle’s armor. It’s positively miraculous the details that we can see now, details which make LAIKA’s work even more impressive.
As mentioned in the other 4K UHD home release reviews, these 4K UHD remasters also include a brand-new Dolby Atmos track. Unfortunately, my home set-up is not equipped to test that capability. However, I’m delighted to report that the clarity on the English 5.1 track plays as strongly and clear as on the previous Blu-ray LAIKA/Shout! re-release. In terms of the special features, as with the prior three 4K UHD remasters, the 4K UHD disc is the film only and all the bonus features are relegated to the Blu-ray disc. The material on the Blu-ray includes all the previously released materials. The featurettes, the brief essay and storyboard art in the liner notes from the 2021 re-release, as well as all the other legacy materials are included.
As with the other three 4K UHD releases, you can opt to snag Kubo in either a regular release which has the same artwork as the 2021 Blu-ray re-release or you can get a steelbook edition. Both versions are combos, so you’ll get both a 4K UHD and standard Blu-ray disc no matter which version you get. If you opt for the steelbook, the design is from Austin, Texas, artist Kevin Tong, who also provided the inspired ParaNorman artwork for that 4K UHD steelbook. Unfortunately, I don’t like the design of the steelbook. It’s absolutely in keeping with the visual concepts of the film, featuring on the front many various-colored paper slips flying in the air as Monkey, Kubo, Beetle, and little Hanzo stand beneath them, lanterns floating on a river in front of them. The back, continuing the image, shows both the paper Moon King and marine beast from Kubo’s initial story battling against a large full moon, the mountain range and river from the village bank visible. It’s a lovely scene gathering together several important aspects of the film, but there’s something about it that doesn’t quite capture the beauty of the film and (this is very much personal preference) it may have to do with the darkness of it all. Yes, the Moon King is the threat, but there’s so much vibrancy in the film, especially as it relates to the color red, that the lack of it feels out of place. The inside of the steelbook is the same clear plastic lining with the reverse image of the steelbook being an enhanced image of the mountain range and river from the backside of the steelbook. As with the others, the artwork on the discs also differs from the 2021 Blu-ray re-release, with the 4K UHD featuring a different design of just Kubo and the Blu-ray disc featuring paper Moon King and little Hanzo.
Even if you’re reading this pre-purchase, you’ve likely already decided if you’re snagging a 4K UHD edition of any of the four LAIKA Studios releases. I may be biased considering how much I love Kubo, but like the three before, it’s beautiful to behold. The details of the craftsmanship on prominent display thanks to the increased sense of depth afforded by the 4K and greater shades of color thanks to the HDR offer a sense of wonder and appreciation that make the watch feel brand new. Ultimately, then, it’s a matter of which version to get: regular or steelbook? If the artwork isn’t to your liking, you can save a few dollars with the regular edition and still walk away extremely happy. That said, the lack of additional bonus materials so soon after the Blu-ray re-release drop may feel like you’re double-dipping, rather than getting your money’s worth. In my case, out of the four, I’d snag both ParaNorman and Kubo and would do it without complaint, even if there would be some mild frustration. They really do look that good in the new format.
Kubo and the Two Strings Special Features:
DISC ONE: 4K UHD
- NEW 4K Restoration
- NEW Dolby Atmos 7.1 Mix
DISC TWO: Blu-ray
- Inside LAIKA – Confronting The Epic Challenges Of Kubo and the Two Strings (13:38)
- Inside LAIKA – Revisiting The Puppets With LAIKA’s Animation Team
- Feature-Length Storyboards (1:32:30)
- Character, Concept Art And Behind-The-Scenes Photo Galleries
- Audio Commentary With Director/Producer Travis Knight
- Audio Descriptive Track
- “Kubo’s Journey”
- Original Featurettes
- Foreword by Charles Solomon, Film critic and animation historian, included with an Art & Essay Mini-book.
For more information on the film, head to LAIKA Studios’s official Kubo and the Two Strings webpage.
Available on Blu-ray/DVD Combo from Shout! Factory September 14th, 2021.
Available on 4K UHD/Blu-ray Combo from Shout! Studios in both regular and steelbook editions February 28th, 2023.
Categories: Home Release, Recommendation
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