Laika's latest stop-motion masterpiece takes viewers on a magical journey of Blu-ray delights
One-eyed boy Kubo (Art Parkinson) lives in a cave atop a mountain in ancient Japan with his sick mother Sariatu (Charlize Theron). Kubo spends his days entertaining nearby villagers with tales of the samurai Hanzo, which he brings to life via origami that's magically animated by music played on his guitar-like shamisen.
Sariatu insists that Kubo always returns to the cave before nightfall lest his grandfather, the Moon King, comes to take his remaining eye. Which is all fine and well until Kubo absentmindedly stays out late during a local festival and is immediately attacked by two seriously creepy witch sisters (both voiced by Rooney Mara).
When his mother comes to his aid and uses the last of her magic to send him far away, Kubo gains two unlikely protectors – Monkey and Beetle – and embarks out on a quest to find his deceased father's sword and armour, which hold the power needed to defeat the Moon King once and for all...
With Kubo and the Two Strings, stop-motion specialist Laika cements its position as the most exciting animation studio in the US right now. While its previous three releases – 2009's Coraline, 2012's ParaNorman and 2014's The Boxtrolls – established its ability to craft a compelling story, this latest effort takes things to a new level.
Coming pretty close to perfection, Kubo and the Two Strings grips from the beginning with its remarkable visuals, before taking viewers on a fantastic journey of discovery. In doing so, it plays with the full range of emotions – from excitement to fear, humour to affection – with just as much skill as Kubo plays his magical instrument. This is a visionary piece of cinema constructed with an unparalleled level of craftsmanship. Highly recommended.
Picture: The Blu-ray's polished 1080p encode is nothing less than magnificent. Clarity and detail levels in the 2.40:1 imagery highlight the physicality of the character models and sets; each shot reveals a wealth of finely-etched textures and fabrics that gives even this 'flat' presentation a real sense of volume (a 3D Blu-ray is also an option, but wasn't made available for review).
Picture rating: 5/5
Audio: Despite being mixed in Dolby Atmos for its cinema release, Kubo and the Two Strings lands on Blu-ray with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. While this is disappointing and rather surprising as Universal regularly features Atmos/DTS:X mixes on its new BDs, the track we do get is still a good 'un. The entire soundstage is employed continually to immerse you within the film's world, dialogue is pleasingly clear and there's sumptuous musicality to Kubo's playing. Overall, it's a lovely piece of sound design that truly enriches the viewing experience.
Audio rating: 4.5/5
Extras: Director Travis Knight provides an informative commentary for the film, while more behind-the-scenes secrets are unearthed in the six-part Kubo's Journey (fascinating stuff, but its half-hour running time is far too short). Rounding things off are a pair of additional three-minute EPK-style promo videos. A film this good deserves a bit more.
Extras rating: 2.5/5
We say: A stunning hi-def debut for Laika's dazzling stop-motion masterpiece. Simply unmissable.
Kubo and the Two Strings, Universal Pictures, All-region BD, £25
HCC VERDICT: 4.5/5
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