Laika’s ‘Kubo’ a visual feast

“Kubo and the Two Strings,” a visual feast served up by animation studio Laika, is a blend of action and emotion set in a fantasy world of the Far East. Told through stunning backdrops and fanciful stop-motion animation, the film looks at Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson), a young boy who lives a spartan life surviving on the stories he tells residents of a small seaside town.

This world is shaken when Kubo accidentally summons a spirit who arrives bent on avenging an old debt. The only hope Kubo has is to go on a quest to save his family and friends, aided by Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey). The trek also provides answers to some of the biggest mysteries in Kubo’s life.

First-time director Travis Knight, the lead animator on Laika’s previous three films, presents the story with a beautifully fluid style. He takes the story from a realistic world of snow and ice to an ocean where the participants ride in a boat that seems held together by dreams and wishes.

On one level, the story is an action tale in which a young boy is forced into the role of champion. But the film also examines the pain and power that come with great loss. The movie has heart, and it beats loudest when dealing with issues of family.

Despite the emotional punch, the script by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler has some flaws. The biggest error is setting this tale in the East. So much great animation comes from Japan that “Kubo” initially looks like a Japanese film that has been redubbed for an American audience.

The pair also needed to pay more attention to the finer points of the story. Kubo has a musical instrument he uses to produce magic. Each time he strums the instrument, he loses a string. At a critical moment, he fashions three strings for the instrument that he uses to save the day. And yet, the film is “Kubo and the TWO Strings.”

The biggest problem overall is the voice casting. The major players don’t sound exactly right. Parkinson and Theron fight a middle American accent that is benign enough to be passable, but no matter how hard he tries, McConaughey’s voicework makes the Samurai-looking Beetle sound like he’s not from the Far East but from East Texas.

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1

Kubo and the Two Strings

Cast: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei

Director: Travis Knight

101 minutes

Rated PG for scary images and action scenes

Opens this week at Barkley Village 16