When a LAIKA movie hits theaters, audiences expect a huge visual treat. Not only do these stop-motion animated pictures take years to develop, but they always come with the promise of magic, mayhem and a huge awe factor. From Corpse Bride (which they assisted the production of) to Coraline, Paranorman to The Boxtrolls, LAIKA movies are known not only for their creepiness and artistic delights, but also their incredible storytelling. Every movie the company produces seems to burst through boundaries, creating a completely new dynamic for stop-motion animation.
According to previews, interviews and movie stills, Kubo and the Two Strings will be no less awe-inspiring than LAIKA’s previous movies. Between its stunning cinematography, all-star cast, music and story, Kubo is set to become the next stop-motion animation cult classic film. Between everything the studio has released about the movie after five years of production to Screen Rant’s own exclusive visit with LAIKA, here are 15 Things You Need to Know About Kubo And The Two Strings.
14. Kubo Is A LAIKA Production
Although this should be obvious by now, people who are unfamiliar with LAIKA movies may need a quick rundown on the company. LAIKA is known for their gorgeous art, creepy yet meaningful story lines and, above all, passion. They are dedicated artists who toil for years on a single movie, and while their films do not turn much of a profit at the box office, they are known to become fast cult classics.
Tim Burton said, “I love all forms of animation, but there is something unique and special to stop-motion; it’s more real and the set is like a set.” It is also a labor of love, with Forbes calling it a “crazy” thing to do. A stop-motion picture completes around one to two minutes of footage per week. LAIKA producer Travis Knight says, “It’s the worst way to make a movie. It makes no sense. You’re cutting your hands and contorting your body. But it’s an incredible art form that is so rare and so beautiful.” When a team is as invested in a project as LAIKA is, audiences know they are in for something special that is already loved by a team who spent grueling months on production out of respect for the art form.
13. Kubo Surpasses Genre
Like other LAIKA films, Kubo is a fantasy-action-comedy. The PG-rated movie will follow in the footsteps of its predecessors, which means that it will not neatly fit into a single genre. This refusal to stay inside the box is one of the things that make the company so beloved in the eyes of fans who just don’t want to sit through another meaningless cartoon for the chuckle factor. Do people laugh when they see a LAIKA move? Yes, but they may also gasp, tear up and most definitely grin with delight. They also come expecting some darkness that just won’t be found in most other animated movies.
While a good versus evil theme is at the heart of Kubo, there will also be a degree of mysticism and magic. There is music, humor, fantasy, and a meaningful tale of a boy on a quest. Like previous LAIKA films, Kubo is a modern day Brothers Grimm story, embracing the danger and macabre nature of life itself in one of the most difficult art forms in existence. It uses fantastical elements to explain life itself, which is what all good storytellers know how to do.
12. It’s Steeped in Japanese Folklore
The setting for Kubo is in ancient Japan, which already presents so much incredible folklore and opportunities for unforgettable storytelling. If Miyazaki films have shown audiences anything, it is that Japan is full of rich stories to tell. In celebration of the film, the Japanese American National Museum in Downtown Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo is even hosting a pop-up exhibit about the film that features puppets, costumes, origami and much more. Origami is going to have a strong presence in the film, as Screen Rant discovered in an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour. In the film, a magical shamisen, or three-stringed Japanese folk instrument similar an American banjo, brings origami to life when a specific melody is played. Fans can catch a glimpse of this in trailers where the titular character can be seen playing the shamisen and flying on wings made of origami creatures.
Parents taking children to see the film may want to read a bit about Japanese culture beforehand to help kids connect with the ideas, landscape and culture within the film. Although not necessary by any means, it could help tweens and teens understand the movie a bit better while furthering their knowledge of Japanese culture. Director Travis Knight says, “This film expresses the respect and admiration all the artists at LAIKA feel for Japan and its culture.” Knight says that he hopes to pay homage to the “beautiful, breathtaking, almost otherworldly” nature of Japan, particularly with George Takei in the film.
11. Teenage Wasteland
One of LAIKA’s trademark themes is the coming of age of tweens to teens, and they always pitch it with a wild adventure to keep it interesting while blending it with serious darkness to highlight the weightiness of puberty and growth. While many films poke fun at pimples and awkwardness, LAIKA tends to portray the period of adolescent development with a balance of justice and humor, putting youth on center stage while adults often don’t “get it” until the end of the film, if at all.
The titular character of Kubo is a 12-year-old boy. During Screen Rant’s peek at LAIKA’s production of the film, it was revealed that Kubo will be undergoing a “mystical journey to uncover the secrets of his family’s past.” After witnessing Coraline braving the evil Other Mother and her Other World to save her parents and Norman besting a misunderstood witch (not to mention helping his town understand a group of puritan zombies), audiences eagerly await to find out how Norman will save the world.
10. Coldplay Is Contributing To The Soundtrack, Among Others
Pop music is not usually synonymous with a LAIKA movie. While most of the company’s movies have had musical sequences, none were of the on-the-radio variety. Most, in fact, have been far from it, such as the obnoxiously hilarious songs of The Boxtrolls. Since Kubo’s story largely circles around an instrument, it’s no surprise that the film is taking a different approach in the music department.
Coldplay is largely featured on the Kubo soundtrack, and Academy Award-nominee Dario Marianelli is arranging the film’s music. Marianelli, an Italian composer, is known for films like V for Vendetta, Pride and Prejudice and The Brothers Grimm. He has previously worked with LAIKA on The Boxtrolls soundtrack. Regina Spektor covers “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the most-covered Beatles song, in the film. Her cover even has an accompanying music video. A shamisen is included in her version of the song.
9. Art Parkinson is Kubo
Game of Thrones fans will know Art Parkinson as Rickon Stark, but the voice of Kubo has had several other notable film roles. Many San Andreas fans know him as Ollie, and he has also starred in the films Love, Rosie, Dracula Untold, The Anomaly, Dark Touch and Freakdog. Most of his roles have been in some type of fantasy or horror movie, which should prepare him for the role of Kubo quite well. And unlike Game of Thrones, Kubo should be a film that his parents will allow him to watch! Parkinson has been acting for a long time, as his mother, actress Movania Parkinson, operates an acting school.
In a recent interview with Screen Rant, Parkinson said that he was provided with lots of material to channel Kubo. “Whenever I did the audition they sent the script over and it had a little illustration so I knew what Kubo looked like… they did send us over little care packages and things like that with like books of illustrations of the set and little props that they could send over and stuff.” He was also able to complete his voice work in person in Los Angeles, after which he traveled to Portland where he was able to tour the LAIKA studio.
8. It’s A Mystical Journey
While it’s no surprise that Kubo and the Two Strings will be a mystical journey for most ages to enjoy, Screen Rant was able to obtain an exclusive interview about the plot of the film. Some mild spoilers include Kubo and his mother washing ashore on an island, both characters’ ability to change their surroundings with magic, Kubo’s missing eye and a mysterious Hall of Bones. For more spoilers and details, be sure to check out the exclusive sneak peek.
In the latest and final trailer for the film, new monsters can be seen, Kubo erects a ship with his magic and it is revealed that his mother, who is supposed to be quite powerful, used her own magic to save Kubo’s life from evil forces. She also brought his monkey companion to life to help him on his journey. From the same trailer, we know that Kubo will encounter different landscapes, including a vast, snowy tundra and the ocean, and at at least three creepy foes along the way.
7. Ralph Fiennes Goes Bad Again
If playing Voldemort, one of the most evil wizards of all time, was not enough for the commanding actor, Ralph Fiennes is playing another villain in Kubo. Raiden the Moon King is a character bent on vengeance, and if Fiennes’ previous evil characters are any indication, the Moon King’s voice should be downright scary. Fans will also remember Fiennes voicing another baddie, Victor Quartermaine, in Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, as well as Ramses in Dreamworks’ film The Prince of Egypt. Perhaps audiences will get the treat of hearing Fiennes sing once again – the guy has a gripping voice.
Rooney Mara of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints will also be playing a villain in the film. She is the voice of a pair of evil twin sisters that can be seen taunting Kubo in the film’s trailers. Fans of Mara already know her from films such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Pan.
6. Kubo’s Allies Have Star Power
No heroic tale is complete without a couple of fun sidekicks. Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey are Kubo’s allies in the film, giving it an extra boost of star power. Theron plays Monkey, Kubo’s fierce, stoic companion throughout his journey. Theron says that impressing her kids is one of her biggest goals when making a movie, but they are usually more inspired by her costars.
McConaughey says that this was his first role that his three kids could enjoy. “I hadn’t made a film my kids could watch and decided it was about time I did! Now I have, and they’ve seen it, and for about eight days after they first watched it I was hot in my house! That faded, of course, but for those eight days I was one cool dad.” To prepare for his role as the samurai known as “Beetle,” he also read his script aloud to his children in order to decide how to modify his voice for the best effect.
5. It’s Written By An Award-Winning Team
With a screenplay written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler and a story by Shannon Tindle, Kubo is almost guaranteed to be a hit. Haimes was previously involved in hit movies like Transformers and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Butler is the man responsible for writing Paranorman, but he also worked on Corpse Bride, Coraline, The Boxtrolls and The Tigger Movie. Both have experience in a wide range of film roles, from art departments and animation to writing and directing. Tindle has worked on The Croods, Coraline and Mr. Peabody & Sherman in the art department, animation and other fields. She has also worked on lots of PBS and Disney productions, like The Proud Family and Curious George.
Given that early screenings of the movie have already resulted in a Rotten Tomatoes score of 93% based on 40 reviews (at the time of writing), it makes sense to guess that the movie will be as successful, if not more so, than its makers’ predecessors.
4. Now You See Him
Like his mother before him, Kubo has magical powers, and the trailers all allude to that as the center of the movie. Kubo tells the audience, “If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see no matter how unusual it may seem. If you look away, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish.” Although Kubo makes a living as a storyteller in the first place, which is where this line likely ties in, he is also describing his own tale.
Previous LAIKA heroes did not have magical powers in particular, save for Norman’s ability to talk to the dead and Emily’s status of being dead. While the studio has played with plenty of magic, from bringing zombies back from the dead to portraying the power of a chillingly powerful teen witch, seeing what they will do with a child’s actual powers is going to be an event not to be missed.
3. Oh Myyy
George Takei is in Kubo, and given how few roles the Star Trek favorite takes these days, it’s enough to make his fans go gaga. Takei is known for his hilarity and frankness, two traits that make him a beloved actor and social media personality. His fans already know that he has the vocal chops to take on an animated role, too. Between Mulan, Kung Fu Panda, Robot Chicken and other roles, he has given two-dimensional characters amazing personalities over the years.
In addition to Takei, Kubo has a long string of supporting cast members. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa of Mortal Kombat, seasoned voice artist Brenda Vaccaro, General Hospital’s Mina Noji, and jack of all trades Ken Takemoto (Just Like Heaven, Transformers: Dark of the Moon) are also in the film. With so many experienced vocal artists on board, the movie should be well-voiced with just the right amount of expression.
2. It’s Already Made Guiness
When a movie has already made the Guinness Book of World Records, it has to be one to see. Kubo has already earned a record for largest animated puppet ever used on a set, which is going to be something to see. During Screen Rant’s exclusiv visit with LAIKA Entertainment, it was revealed that this record-breaking puppet is none other than a giant skeleton in the Hall of Bones of the film. Given that one of the most iconic stop-motion animations of all time, Jack Skellington of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, is also a skeleton, this could not be more perfect. The giant skeleton is 17 feet tall and its arms stretch out to 24 feet, and it was designed to be this huge so Kubo could be in the picture with it during filming.
The puppet was taken apart fairly often for different moments (seriously, that is one huge puppet), but it is still a milestone that cannot be missed. Seeing Kubo is literally seeing a part of stop-motion animation history being made.
1. There’s Less Than A Week To Get Tickets
Kubo comes out on August 19, giving LAIKA fans and newcomers alike less than a week to nab tickets for opening weekend seats. In the film, Kubo admits that he is not very good at endings as a storyteller, and he often ends his stories in the middle of a fight scene. Viewers will be anxious to find out just how his story ends. LAIKA’s previous box office numbers during opening weekend include $16.8 million (Coraline), $14 million (ParaNorman) and $17.2 million (The Boxtrolls). During its opening weekend, Kubo will be up against War Dogs and Ben-Hur, which are not exactly competition in terms of the family audience Kubo is sure to attract. Projected numbers for the film are in that range, and while the movie’s reviews are mostly positive, it is lagging in the social media department when compared with The Boxtrolls.
Kubo and the Two Strings is 1 hour and 41 minutes long. It is rated PG and Common Sense Media, who describes it as “Beautiful epic about storytelling hero can be dark, scary,” recommends it for ages 9 and up.