PLOT A boy with magic powers must battle a vengeful spirit.
CAST Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes
BOTTOM LINE Stunning visuals, but they’re squandered in the service of an incoherent story.
“Kubo and the Two Strings” is the most extraordinary work of animation yet from the studio Laika, and that’s saying something. Since forming 10 years ago, Laika’s output has included the creepy fairy tale “Coraline” (2009) and the eccentric comedy-adventure “The Boxtrolls” (2014). “Kubo and the Two Strings” is a visually dazzling film set in an ancient, magical Japan.
And now, the bad news. As a narrative, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is nearly incomprehensible. Children will enjoy the imagery and the action — the chase scenes and swordplay are nicely handled by director Travis Knight, the studio’s CEO — but even they may notice that the story isn’t really a story. It’s a blur of symbols, totems, themes, odd characters and tales-within-tales.
Kubo (the voice of Art Parkinson) is a one-eyed boy who supports his mother by telling stories in the village square. He’s good at it; in fact, music from his three-stringed shamisen actually brings his origami figures to life. Each sundown, however, Kubo must hide from the two Sisters (Rooney Mara) who want to steal his remaining eye and give it to The Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). When Kubo strikes out to defeat the king, his companions will be a no-nonsense Monkey (Charlize Theron), a samurai Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) and another samurai, made of paper, who does not speak.
A brief note on the movie’s voice cast: It is predominantly white. Racially accurate casting may not be crucial in animation — is there such a thing as an “Asian voice?