Simply put, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is the best execution of stop-motion animation that I have ever seen. Laika has been producing stop-motion films for the past decade and has improved with each step along the way. While it is one of the few production companies that can say that every one of their feature films has received an Oscar nomination (“Coraline,” “Paranorman,” “The Boxtrolls”), this film feels much more complete than their previous endeavors. I believe that the studio’s other nominations have mainly been a sign of appreciation for continuing this painstaking art form, but “Kubo’s” story is very thorough and the animation is so seamless that you would think that it is computer animated. The stop-motion genre has never been of much interest to me but I couldn't help but sit frozen in awe of this visual masterpiece. When this year’s Oscar nominations were released, I was shocked at “Kubo’s” nomination for the Best Visual Effects Oscar. Then I saw the film and it made total sense. This is only the second animated film ever to be nominated for Best Visual Effects (along with the groundbreaking “The Nightmare Before Christmas”), and I believe that it is the first stop-motion film since then to be worthy of that distinction. All of the jerkiness that we typically associate with these films is completely absent. The artistic vision is as good as any live action fantasy film out there, particularly the origami storytelling, giant sword-skulled skeleton, and the Garden of the Eyes. Beyond the flashy parts of the film, these characters portray more emotions than I have ever seen in a stop-motion film. The voice acting is average but this is an odd circumstance where the animation enhances the emotion in the voices and not the other way around. This original story is developed in a way that it feels as if it is a well-known ancient Japanese legend, complete with a journey to acquire three mythical artifacts to help the hero defeat a supernatural enemy. The storytelling of Kubo sets the tone as he becomes a character in his own story. He is joined by a creative crew of supporting characters that are all animated with an impressive amount of realism (I still can’t figure out how the monkey isn’t computer animated). The entire story is pulled together by a stunning score by Dario Marianelli, and this is my pick for the largest Oscar nomination snub of 2016. The score blends cultural Japanese sororities with a beautiful theme that will reduce you to tears. 2016 offered one of the strongest classes of animated films that I can remember and this film is worthy of knocking “Finding Dory” out of the running and going toe-to-toe with “Zootopia.” In the end, I believe that it will lose the battle for the Best Animated Feature Oscar because the overall appeal of the film is still aimed at kids. The comedy is more kid-centric than what we've seen in recent Disney and Pixar films like "Inside Out." Still, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is an amazing work of art that all ages can enjoy for its attention to detail, gorgeous musical score, and emotional moments where you can’t help but cry.
[Pictured: Laika did an incredible job of creating realistic stop-motion animation]