January 9, 2017

Kubo And The Two Strings (2016)

Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey



Despite those cheesy Lincoln car commercials, his refusal to wear deodorant, and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, I still like Matthew McConaughey. I think he's a good actor.

On-screen acting, however, does not necessarily translate into voice acting, which is a completely different skill all together. I'm not sure why studios think listing big acting names on an animated movie will somehow automatically draw people to the movie. Like, "yeah! I can't wait to go watch a Japanese movie and listen to Matthew McConaughey's voice!"

That being said, his voice actually bothered me far less than Charlize Theron's. Probably because McConaughey's character brought comic relief and had far less lines, but nevertheless... I know can be persnickety about voice acting, but I think it's safe to say that if your voice is annoying me more than Matthew McConaughey's, you've got a real problem.

It's not just that it's a Japanese movie voiced by non-Japanese actors, though that does bother me (I mean, would it be that difficult? Here's a list of alternatives I Googled in 5 seconds). It's also the fact that the voices they chose are so recognizable that instead of enjoying what is otherwise a fantastic movie, I'm trying to block out visions of Matthew McConaughey as a giant beetle. And Charlize Theron brought so little to the role I just can't believe her name alone convinced the studio that she was a worthwhile hire for this. [I will admit the voice of Kubo, while also not Japanese, did not bother me nearly as much Also, he did a better job than the adults.]

But voices aside (4 paragraphs later...), I was very impressed by this movie. Mimicking the dark tones and themes of other Laika productions like ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls, Kubo deals with weighty topics like death, ghosts, and abandonment with a lot of overall creepiness. And while this is actually an original story, the magical elements and sequencing remind me a lot of some of the Chinese folk tales I grew up on. It has a feeling of authenticity about it, all the while being completely fiction. But the discrepancy in the voices used did take away some of that, similar to how the use of modern music kept The Book of Life from feeling quite as authentically Mexican.

I've never been a big fan of stop motion animation, mostly because it never lives up to my favorites in that category, Wallace and Gromit. But it worked great here, showcasing everything from the extended fight sequences to the delicate origami Kubo folds with the help of his magic shamisen. Maybe my opinion of the method is changing. And considering the founder's staunch opposition to sequels, I might just need to devote more time to Laika's offerings.

Final word: It's a shame it came out in such a blockbuster year for Disney, but this has been the best studio Laika offering yet.

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