For many people, the best part of award season is trying to predict which films will be honored as the best in their category. The nature of the awards process is that we are left at the end of each ceremony with one film we are supposed to hold up as “the best”. This year, instead of stumping for the films we think will win, we humbly present to you our thoughts on the films that deserve to be recognized. Films for which the honor of being nominated does not seem enough but also will not likely come away victorious. We hope to explain the importance of the film, and the reason it soars above the competition to earn the honor of being dubbed the best of the year. This is: For Your Consideration.
Kubo and the Two Strings is the most recent project from Laika Entertainment. In 2017, the company has earned a reputation for being unique in animation circles. A quick survey of their other films since 2009 will make that obvious to anyone familiar with the titles. In 2009, the studio put out it’s first feature-length film, Coraline, which earned nominations for Best Animated Picture at the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, and 8 Annie Nominations. In 2012, Laika released ParaNorman which also earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature and 8 Annie Nominations. The studio’s third film was 2014’s The Boxtrolls which earned an Academy Award Nomination for Best Animated Feature, a Golden Globe Nomination for that same category, and 9 Annie Award Nominations .
Which brings us to Kubo. The latest Laika installment has earned a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards, a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the Golden Globes, and 10 Annie Award Nominations. With each successive film, the little-animation-house-that-could has proved to audiences that they are interested in bringing unique cinematic experiences to movie houses and living rooms across the world. Not only are the films unique and interesting stories. They are also good. Even Laika’s lowest rated movie on Rotten Tomatoes, The Boxtrolls, clocks in with a 75% and a Certified Fresh marker. Their best? Kubo: 97%.
If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see and hear, no matter how unusual it may seem. And please be warned: If you fidget, if you look away, if you forget any part of what I tell you – even for an instant – then our hero will surely perish.
So quantitatively, Kubo is a high-water mark for animated films this year. In fact it cold be argued that, just using quantitative measures, Kubo is a high water mark for movies this year full stop. But awards aren’t about quantitative reasoning. If they were, awards would just follow box office numbers or critics’ ratings. Awards are about the film making process. They’re about recognizing the many specific artistic crafts that go into film making. The Academy Awards are given out to individuals who went above and beyond their peers in their particular craft to produce the most impressive result, be it acting, directing, cinematography, or sound mixing. Which is why Kubo and the Two Strings deserves to win Best Animated Picture. The fantastic animators at Laika combine the crafts of stop-motion animation and visual effects to create the best animated film this year.
There is no question that the process of stop motion animation is more tedious than a more traditional form of animation. In order to keep pace with traditional animation studios, which have gained a lot from computer advancement over the last several years, stop motion animation houses have had to find ways to advance their own craft while also working in a medium that is relatively fixed in form. The incredible attention to minute detail required to produce a high quality stop motion film must work together with the understanding of computer animation to create a more high quality product, essentially forcing Laika to be the master of two different art forms.
Just one example of the incredible computer animation on show in Kubo is the water in the background of many of the film’s scenes. Whether he is living with his mother on the coastline, visiting his father’s grave in the town, or adventuring across the world with his companions, Kubo seems unable to escape the water. While many animation enthusiasts have rushed to laud the water in Moana as the next big mark of CGI progress in animation (akin to the hair in Brave, the textures in Toy Story, or the water in Nemo) the water animation in Kubo is pound for pound as fantastic as anything else in animation this year.
Then there is the matter of the stop-motion animation. While Laika has been perfecting their stop motion process for years, this is by far the most audacious entry in their cannon so far. Take just one example. During their adventure, Kubo and his friends have to fight a giant skeleton that holds the first key to defeating their enemy. In order to put this skeleton in their movie, the animators at Laika had to design and create a 16 foot tall, 400 pound stop motion puppet. The construction of the puppet took over six months and was manipulated and animated for filming for a year. The result of all this was 49.2 seconds of footage in the movie.
Once the filming process was done, the visual effects team spent even more time creating the Hall of Bones where the skeleton lives. Their approach is almost indistinguishable from the processes used in live action movies to animate special effects. Green screens were put in place around the studio and the desired animation was mapped onto it. While it is hard to distinguish what is real from what is rendered with a computer in the movie, that look has become a hallmark of Laika in all their films. The studio makes it their habit to create entire worlds inside of their stop-motion movies.
Kubo and the Two Strings is an amazing feat of animation. The amount of talent, patience, and artistic vision required to film even one of the 102 minutes in the film is awe inspiring. Knowing the amount of work that it takes makes the appreciation of it all the more fantastic. When the film opens on a stop-motion boat being thrown around a beautifully rendered CG motion, it feels almost redundant that Kubo has to remind the audience “If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see and hear, no matter how unusual it may seem”. Even the tiniest details in the film are deserving of complete reverence.
So, if you are wondering which animated film should win the Oscar this year, or if you are just looking for a movie to enjoy on an evening at home, we ask you please consider Kubo and the Two Strings.