I attended the Kubo and the Two Strings Press Day as a guest of Focus Features.
“With the ascendancy of the computer…stop motion was on life support. No right-thinking person would follow this as a field,” says Travis Knight. Yet that’s exactly what he and his team at LAIKA Studios has done, creating the films Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls. Their latest film, Kubo and The Two Strings, will also serve as Knight’s directorial debut.
Their passion for stop-motion creates a unique culture at LAIKA. “It’s basically Santa’s Workshop with elves that have body tattoos and piercings,” according to Knight. They’ve also embraced the technology that was originally seen as the origin of their demise. “What is technology, really? It’s just a tool. It’s a tool and service of the operators, and for us, we use it as a tool to tell stories. A tool to make art.”
Kubo and the Two Strings is LAIKA’s most ambitious film to date. “There are inherent limitations of what you can do in stop motion,” says Knight. “Yet the crew at LAIKA, they’re really excited about challenges. We always want to challenge ourselves. We always want to tell new and interesting stories and to dive into new genres and so the opportunity to tell a big, epic fantasy-something we’d never done before or even attempted-was really exciting for a lot of people.”
Knight took inspiration from his own childhood when making Kubo. “I think this film is really kind of a combination of all these things that I’ve loved deeply since I was a kid. I was drawn to stop motion from a very young age. I really kind of deeply fell in love with it, you know, the Ray Harryhausen Creature Features, the Rankin and Bass Christmas specials; those things like that.”
“I am a geek about a great many things,” says Knight. “I think part of that was a great gift to my mother because she was-when she was pregnant with me-she was reading Lord of the Rings, so my first breath in the world was in a room where my mother was reading Tolkien.” It’s also something he wants to pass along to his children. “The cool thing about once your kids start to get to a certain age, you can start sharing things with them that you loved when you were a kid. And it’s interesting because you see what resonates and what doesn’t; what stands the test of time and what doesn’t.” His oldest son couldn’t get through Flash Gordon-one of Knight’s childhood favorites-but he and his sister both loved Star Wars. Even though they don’t always have the same tastes, Knight still wants to experience their reactions. “It’s one of the things I love about being a dad.”
Bringing Kubo and the Two Strings to theaters has been a five year long process, but clearly one completed with great love and affection from Kinght. “I’m incredibly proud of the film. I love the whole thing. I mean, artists just poured their souls into it over years and I think it’s just a beautiful slice of humanity; it’s a beautiful work of art.”
Kubo and the Two Strings enters theaters on August 19th.
Kubo and the Two Strings is an epic action-adventure set in a fantastical Japan from acclaimed animation studio LAIKA. Clever, kindhearted Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson of Game of Thrones) ekes out a humble living, telling stories to the people of his seaside town including Hosato (George Takei), Akihiro (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), and Kameyo (Academy Award nominee Brenda Vaccaro). But his relatively quiet existence is shattered when he accidentally summons a spirit from his past which storms down from the heavens to enforce an age-old vendetta. Now on the run, Kubo joins forces with Monkey (Academy Award winner Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey), and sets out on a thrilling quest to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known. With the help of his shamisen – a magical musical instrument – Kubo must battle gods and monsters, including the vengeful Moon King (Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes) and the evil twin Sisters (Academy Award nominee Rooney Mara), to unlock the secret of his legacy, reunite his family, and fulfill his heroic destiny.
Director: Travis Knight
Writers: Marc Haimes and Chris Butler (ParaNorman)
Voice Cast: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro, and Matthew McConaughey