Magic and mystery combine to dazzling effect in the latest stop-motion animated fantasy from Laika Entertainment, creators of Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls
Like those pictures, Kubo And The Two Strings is visually sumptuous and meticulously crafted, evoking the traditions of ancient Japan through detailed hand-crafted figurines and sets, which are occasionally enhanced with digital effects.
Director Travis Knight and his team offset moments of heartbreak with flashes of dark and twisted humour that might be too scary for very young audiences.
These gentle jolts are punctuated with impressive set-pieces including a fight with a giant skeleton with fiery eyes and a rain-sodden showdown aboard a ship conjured from swirls of autumnal leaves.
The emotional heart of the story, fashioned by scriptwriters Marc Haimes and Chris Butler, is the touching bond between a resourceful boy and his virtually catatonic mother.
Early scenes of co-dependence tug more than two heartstrings.
While the boy tenderly uses chopsticks to feeds his melancholic parent mouthfuls of hot rice, the matriarch reciprocates, in rare moments of lucidity, with soothing reminiscences of the past.
In one of these calms before a storm, we meet Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson), who lives in a cave with his mother Sariatu (Charlize Theron), a sorceress whose powers have been drained protecting her son from his evil grandfather, Raiden (Ralph Fiennes).
“You must always stay hidden from the night sky,” Sariatu warns Kubo before he sets off for a nearby village to entertain locals with tall tales, which he brings to life using origami animals and a three-stringed shamisen.
During one of these expeditions, Kubo stays out after sundown in the hope of contacting the spirit of his father, a valiant warrior called Hanzo.
Under the cover of night, Kubo’s evil aunts (Rooney Mara) materialise and launch a devastating attack.
When the boy regains consciousness, his mother is gone.
In her place is Monkey, who has been magically brought to life from a wooden charm that Kubo used to carry around in his pocket.
“Do you ever say anything encouraging?” Kubo asks his primate protector as they embark on a noble quest to locate three magical items: the Sword Unbreakable, the Breastplate Impenetrable and the Helmet Invulnerable.
“I encourage you not to die,” tersely responds Monkey, who reluctantly joins forces with a forgetful samurai called Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) to protect Kubo from harm.
Kubo And The Two Strings is a joyous conflation of old and new.
Stop-motion precision seamlessly combines with state-of-the-art computer trickery to bring to life a bygone age of feudal loyalty, when men lived and died by the sword.
Energetic vocal performances tease out vulnerabilities and insecurities of the characters as they wrestle with their destiny.
Knight’s picture is destined to become an enduring family favourite.