(On Cable TV, April 2017) At a time when streaming media (and I include recording cable TV movies on a DVR to be streaming) has taken over physical media as a way to see movies, I think that two factors can motivate a physical media purchase: Beauty and replayability. Is this something that’s worth seeing in high resolution, over and over again? Fortunately, Kubo and the Two Strings makes the grade on both aspects. From a visual perspective, it’s never less than astonishing. The mixture of stop-motion and CGI provides both the physicality and the scope required for telling an epic fantasy story. The wizards at Laika have done it again in raising the bar of what’s possible on-screen. But what makes Kubo and the Two Strings their best movie since Coraline is the sustained interest of the plot. While not groundbreaking, the Japanese influence on the film is a refreshing change of pace, and there’s enough in the film to hold our interest from beginning to end. (Paranorman ended much stronger than it started, while The Boxtrolls was dull throughout). Once you’ve got exceptional visuals and a decent plot, the rest takes care of itself. Unusually melancholic for a kid’s feature, Kubo and the Two Strings may be best appreciated by older children … and their parents. For everyone else, though, it’s a powerful demo disc for high-definition TVs. You will want to see this one more than once.
(On Cable TV, July 2015) I really would have liked to like The Boxtrolls more than I did. At an age of fully computer-generated animation, there is something wonderfully tactile about Laika Studio’s blend of stop-motion animation and CGI augmentation. Unfortunately, (and after Paranorman this seems to be a house style issue), Laika has one of the ugliest character design aesthetics in the business today, and the choices them make in building their characters is not helping the films they’re creating. The Boxtrolls isn’t, per se, a bad or unenjoyable film, although the script is often too ordinary for its own good. But for a film built around a visual experience, the grotesque character design takes it a step back. Otherwise, it’s mildly enjoyable –as long as you’re not allergic to familiar plot elements, the film plays nicely from beginning to end, with inherent quirkiness, fast-paced action sequences and a fantastic attention to detail. Emotionally, The Boxtrolls doesn’t pack the punch that previous Laika production Coraline or Paranorman managed –this is a more laid-back and unstructured result and the end result doesn’t redeem the design like Paranorman eventually did. The technical wizardry is obvious (there’s a wonderful mid-credit moment where we clearly see the amount of work that goes into animating stop-motion films) but it feels a bit wasted here, in search of a more cohesive plan. It’s still worth a look, but it could and should have been a bit better.
(On Cable TV, April 2013) I’ll be honest: there is little in the first half-hour of the film that I found pleasing or interesting. Taking inspiration from the same goth-grotesque vein often tapped by early-era Tim Burton, ParaNorman first shows up with a deliberately ugly aesthetics sense, standard loner-protagonist tropes and cookie-cutter screenwriting. It’s not badly made, but it’s not immediately compelling. Fortunately, things do improve once the required pieces are put in place and before knowing it, the aesthetics of the film aren’t a problem, the character relationships take a life of their own and the film moves toward acquired emotional strengths. Heck; by the end of the film, I found myself unexpectedly moved by the resolution of the antagonist’s plotline, and cheering along the plucky band of heroes as they faced against an intolerant mob. Initial doubts aside, ParaNorman is an impressive piece of work, fully exploiting digital innovation in order to deliver top-quality stop-motion animation. The heart of the script is at the right place despite the sometimes-grotesque imagery, and the result is the kind of young-teen kids’ film that any parent should be glad to put on the family playlist.