Gorgeously animated and stirringly told, LAIKA Animation's hero's journey is an epic tale of courage, the love between mothers and sons, and the magic of a good story. Director Travis Knight (LAIKA's CEO) has said that Kubo and the Two Strings is a tribute to everything from Japanese wood-block painting and the ancient art of origami to the work of Akira Kurosawa and Steven Spielberg -- and it shows. The hybrid of stop-action and computer-generated animation is breathtakingly detailed but always keeps its emphasis on the colorful characters. Theron and McConaughey share a lovely chemistry with Parkinson, and their vocal performances range from powerful to gentle to playful. In lesser hands, a monkey called Monkey and a beetle called Beetle could have been corny, but these supporting characters -- particularly Monkey -- are layered, fierce, and completely necessary to Kubo's life-changing journey.
Knight and his masterful crew of puppeteers, costume designers, riggers, animators, and more have created a story that's emotional and memorable -- at once fantastical and familiar. Kubo, with his one eye, is impossible not to love. He's artistic and loving, attentive to his near-catatonic mom, kind to the villagers, and brave enough to stand up to the supernatural forces trying to strip him of his humanity. The buddy-flick aspects with Monkey and Beetle are delightful (as moviegoers know, McConaughey can convey so much with just a few words), while the fight sequences are admittedly nail-biting affairs. Worth noting is how gripping composer Dario Marianelli's score is, especially his unforgettable arrangement of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," sung by Regina Spektor. Kubo and the Two Strings is a deeply affecting movie that will make audiences laugh, cry, and cheer.