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Kubo and the Two Strings (3D)


Stars: Voices: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Brenda Vaccaro, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Meyrick Murphy

Director: Travis Knight

Here's an absolutely brilliant stop-motion/CGI animated adventure that outdoes the Far Eastern masters at Ghibli at their own game. Beautiful to look at, with lots of vividly staged action and wonderful characters, the film, set in ancient Japan, has imagination in bucketloads, all stunningly executed on screen.

The oriental flavour is caught with a keen, painterly eye and never lost, as we watch the one-eyed boy Kubo (Parkinson), closeted with his mother in a rock cave high above a village below.

In daytime, Kubo demonstrates an uncanny (and magical) skill in origami, folding paper into such figures as knights and dragons, as he tells exciting stories to crowds of villagers. A strum of his shamisen (a kind of long-handled three-stringed mandolin) sends the paper squares flying through the air, changing shape as they go.

Before nightfall, however, Kubo must return to his rocky home. Unknown to him, his mother came from another dimension, but fell in love with the mortal she was assigned to kill, incurring the wrath of her evil sisters (Mara) and her stone-hearted father (Fiennes), who plucked out her baby son's eye. Given the chance, he will return and take Kubo's other eye.

Naturally, one evening Kubo stays too long watching paper lanterns floating away, carrying the spirits of villagers' ancestors, and is swooped upon by the evil sisters. His mother appears and battles them: Kubo awakens in snow, with only a talking baboon (Theron) for company, the incarnation of a stone monkey he had in his cave.

Together, soon joined by a Samurai knight (McConaughey) turned into a giant stag beetle, they set out find Kubo's dead father's magic armour and invincible sword.

There's action against a skeletal demon with numerous swords (one the magic one) stuck in his head - the film is too scary for younger children; age range eight to 14 is recommended - plus fantastic scenes at sea, and beneath it too, as one-eyed creatures there hypnotise Kubo in much the same way as Mowgli was reeled in by Kaa the snake.

In fact, scene after scene takes your breath away and the voice work is also most impressive all round, with an outstanding juvenile performance by Parkinson. Apart from a slightly soppy final tableau, the film is flawless and without fault, finding time for all facets of human emotion. A masterpiece.

David Quinlan

USA 2016. UK Distributor: Universal (Focus). Technicolor.
103 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 09 Sep 2016