This is the latest Laika stop-motion animated picture, following Box Trolls, Paranorman, and Coraline. My favorite remains Paranorman, which was a perfect blend of horror and humor. Kubo is a great and moving story, but it’s too relentlessly dark and grim for my tastes. There’s certainly a measure of humor in it, but the tone is pretty bleak throughout, in my opinion to its detriment. It’s a good movie, but I wouldn’t call it “fun”, which is a tough sell for a family flick. There’s plenty of kids movies that manage to be incredibly dark while still being enjoyable; How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a great example. But there’s just too much darkness in this movie. Like Coraline (which I also enjoyed but had problems with), Kubo takes place in a dead and empty world that just feels very isolating and artificial. Once Kubo leaves the small village he grew up in, he never encounters any other humans despite going on a long journey. I really needed some NPCs in there. Paranorman did a great job of having a large cast and a populated world.
That being said, Kubo tells a great story with some beautiful imagery and action sequences. The stop motion is amazing to look at as always and gives the movie a distinctive look that makes it more than just another CGI flick. The characters are well developed and you really feel for them, and there are some big plot twists all the way through. The villains are creepy and threatening, particularly a colossal skeleton with glowing eyes. The various magic powers are really interesting. I just wish the movie had some more lightness to it (and more people).