Alright, here are the facts: I have been very busy as the school year started up again. And in the last few weeks, I have seen three movies in theaters. So now, I owe you three reviews, starting with this surprising one. This 3-D stop-motion fantasy adventure debuted on August 19th, 2016, grossing just under $42 million at the international box office. A directorial debut from Travis Knight, this is the fourth feature-length stop-motion picture from Laika Entertainment. What’s it about? That’s actually kind of tough. In a spoiler-free, long-story-short version, it centers on a kid named Kubo who lost his left eye at a very young age. After his tragic past catches up to him, he must now go on a quest to find a set of impenetrable armor to protect and arm himself against those who would wish to manipulate him for evil purposes. Along the way, he is accompanied by two anthropomorphic animal companions: Monkey and Beetle. Now we have ourselves arguably the closest thing we will ever get to a good Legend of Zelda movie. I was admittedly hesitant about this film. The marketing material didn’t particularly grab me, and I’m always weary of stop-motion animation. The best one to date was Fantastic Mr. Fox. A Wes Anderson comedy in the form of talking animals? That was rad. Luckily, Kubo and the Two Strings is pretty cool. Let’s get started with the voice cast. Game of Thrones alumni Art Parkinson owns the title role. He’s relatable, fun-loving, and almost always puts others before himself. It’s interesting to see him go from this timid, quiet storyteller in his village to a heroic adventurer. Furthermore, you get to witness more and more of his powers and abilities over the course of the plot. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you. What kind of blog do you think this is? Charlize Theron shines as Monkey, who is a complete badass on this quest. At least three separate times during their adventure, I witnessed her going into action to defend the members of her party. It took me a little while to figure it out, but the character Beetle was voiced by Mathew McConaughey. I couldn’t detect a trace of his Southern twang or hear him say, “Alright, Alright, Alright.” Doesn’t matter though, because he killed it as well, delivering his lines with natural fluidity and comedic timing. I also love how the screenwriters, Marc Haimes and Chris Butler, were able to inject so much mythology into a 102-minute long feature film. Obviously influenced by East Asian culture and legends, it’s very interesting to watch all of the lore and backstory of the world unfold on-screen. The bummer is that I don’t think that it shows enough. I really want to see more of the mythology in a possible franchise. Let’s take a brief moment to talk about the villains that Kubo and Company have to face. I says villains because there are really two main antagonists presented. They had some menace and mystique surrounding them, but over all I didn’t find them very compelling. However, the voice performances, by Rooney Mara and Ralph Fiennes, respectively, were very captivating to listen to. The musical score by Dario Marianelli was an even more captivating joy to the ears. Primarily consisting of Chinese Sitars, violins, and other major string instruments, the score perfectly reflects emotional sadness in one instant and then a grand adventure in the next one. During the credits, there’s even a cover of the Beatles’ famous song, While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Lastly, the animation is gorgeous. The blending of stop-motion and computer-generated effects is both seamless and beautiful. The use of stop-motion allows for a certain physicality of the characters, while the CG gives the world and magic a lot of room to flourish. Kubo and The Two Strings surprised me this fall. Great animations, fun action, and a decidedly melancholy story elevate this Laika production to one of the best animated pictures of the year. Why I didn’t see this movie and review it much earlier, I will never ever know.