Release Date(s)2016 (February 28, 2023)
Studio(s)LAIKA/Focus Features (Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A-
Of all the animated films released in 2016, one stood heads and shoulders above the rest in terms of storytelling, visuals, and aesthetic: Kubo and the Two Strings. Striking a nice balance between popcorn entertainment for people of all ages and progressive art film, it tells the story of Kubo, a young man with the ability to influence the things around him with the power of his magical two-stringed instrument. After his village is destroyed by two evil witches, he’s sent on a journey to acquire magic armor that will help him defeat the forces out to do him, and the people that he loves, immediate harm.
Kubo and the Two Strings was produced by LAIKA, the studio famous for creating Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls, all of which have their own merits as well. However, it’s fair to say that Kubo could be their masterpiece. The vocal performances are top of the line and the stop-motion animation is ahead of the pack in nearly every possible way, ranking as some of the best ever put on screen. Combine that with a powerful and moving story and you soon forget that you’re watching an animated film, which is how all good stories usually transcend beyond their visual confines. While LAIKA’s previous films have many of the same qualities, everything seems to have come into perfect alignment here.
Unfortunately, Kubo and the Two Strings wasn’t fully appreciated by moviegoing audiences, only managing to eke out a minor profit at the box office. The acclaim it has received since, however, continues to grow. A story about a youth overcoming obstacles in the face of adversity is fairly simple and straightforward, but handled with an adult’s hands and through a child’s eyes (or eye, in this instance). It’s a beautiful film with a wonderful score and is a truly magical experience.
Kubo and the Two Strings was captured digitally by director of photography Frank Passingham (along with the animators) possibly using Canon EOS-5D Mark II cameras at 5K quality (computer-generated visual effects were likely rendered at 2K quality). Everything was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Shout! Factory’s Ultra HD debut of the film comes sourced from a “new 4K restoration,” graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are available) with the supervision of LAIKA. Like Shout! Factory’s UHD releases of Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls, this is likely a 2K upscale, but as per usual, it’s excellent. The additional depth enhances the most intricate of details in the animation and environments that it takes place in. Contrast is improved, appearing much clearer with inky deep blacks. The HDR, particularly the Dolby Vision, widens the gamut considerably, allowing for the varied environments substantial saturation. The various hues and textures, most of which feature reds, oranges, blues, purples, and greens, are lush. It’s a top notch presentation with no digital artifacts to be found.
Audio is included in a new English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible) track. It’s a powerful track that adds additional space to an already solid sound mix, opening up opportunities in the overhead speakers while immersing listeners with crisp sound effects and a gorgeous score. Dialogue exchanges are always discernible, and the overall track packs a punch with thumping low end activity. Additionally, there are tracks presented in Spanish, French, and Japanese 5.1 DTS, as well as an English Descriptive Video Service track. Subtitle options include English SDH, Spanish, and French.
Kubo and the Two Strings on 4K Ultra HD sits in a black amaray case alongside a 1080p Blu-ray of the film and a 12-page insert booklet featuring behind-the-scenes stills, concept art, and an essay by Charles Solomon. It’s also available in Steelbook packaging. The following extras are included on each disc, all in HD:
DISC ONE (UHD)
- Audio Commentary with Travis Knight
DISC TWO (BD)
- Audio Commentary with Travis Knight
- Inside LAIKA: Confronting the Epic Challenges of Kubo and the Two Strings (13:38)
- Inside LAIKA: Character Animation:
- Little Hanzo (1:54)
- Monkey (2:02)
- The Sisters (1:45)
- Beetle (1:46)
- Moon King (2:05)
- Mother (2:13)
- Kubo (2:00)
- Feature-Length Storyboards (92:19)
- Kubo’s Journey:
- Introduction by Director/Producer Travis Knight (:49)
- Japanese Inspiration (5:57)
- Mythological Monsters (9:18)
- Braving the Elements (4:28)
- The Redemptive and Healing Power of Music (5:48)
- Epilogue by Director/Producer Travis Knight (2:04)
- Corners of the Earth (3:06)
- The Myth of Kubo (2:33)
- Character Art Still Gallery (24 in all)
- Concept Art Still Gallery (24 in all)
- Behind the Scenes Still Gallery (24 in all)
- Trailer (1:00)
The extras begin with the original 2016 audio commentary featuring director and producer Travis Knight, which is an excellent listen that offers plenty of information about various aspects of the production. The newest additions are the Inside LAIKA featurettes. The first, Confronting the Epic Challenges of Kubo and the Two Strings, features footage from the recording sessions, behind-the-scenes footage, and rare test footage. The second, Character Animation, offers seven separate featurettes on some of the characters. Kubo’s Journey is broken up into six chapters, which can optionally be played all at once. It covers much of the same ground, even repeating some of the same interview snippets. There’s also a set of Feature-Length Storyboards, but the rest of the extras consist of promotional material. Interview participants throughout include director and producer Travis Knight, producer Arianna Sutner, screenwriter/head of story Chris Butler, production designer Nelson Lowry, costume designer Deborah Cook, art director Alice Bird, lighting/camera lead Dean Holmes, animation supervisor Brad Schiff, animators Chris Greenfield, Florian Perinelle, Dan MacKenzie, Rachelle Lambden, director of rapid prototyping Brian McLean, rigging supervisor Oliver Jones, animation riggers Jerry Svoboda and Brian Elliot, visual effects supervisor Steve Emerson, lead effects artist David Horsley, puppet fabrication supervisor Georgina Hayns, lead model builder Raul Martinez, head of shop Darcy Nelson, concept artist Trevor Dalmer, consultant/interpreter Taro Goto, composer Dario Marianelli, music editor James Bellamy, shamisen performer Hibiki Ichikawa, and actors Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, and George Takei. There are also three still galleries containing a total of 72 images of character art, concept art, and behind-the-scenes photos, as well as one of the film’s trailers.
The biggest omission from this release is the 3D version of the film. Since it was specifically shot with 3D in mind, it’s a shame that it hasn’t been included (although you can still find it for a decent price). Aside from that, Kubo and the Two Strings soars in 4K.
- Tim Salmons