Animation studios Laika might not be considered in the same conversations as Pixar or Dreamworks, but there’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be, and their latest offering, ‘Kubo and The Two Strings’, cements that fact. The fourth feature film from the stop-motion animation studio has already been receiving rave reviews, and it isn’t hard to see why.

Stop-motion has come on leaps and bounds, and has now reached the point where it is so well done, that it is difficult to tell it is actually stop-motion. Indeed, there were moments in ‘Kubo’ where you would be forgiven for thinking that this was all created on a computer, rather than painstakingly manipulated by someone’s hands.

It’s testament to how beautiful a film is, when the visuals would still be compelling independent of the dialogue, and ‘Kubo’ is absolutely one of those films. It is one of the most visually striking animated films I have seen in a very long time; there was more than one beautifully photographic shot which led me to let out an audible “wow”. The detail is absolutely mind-blowing, and it is rather fitting that the opening lines of the movie suggest we “don’t blink”. Honestly, it was very difficult to look away, even for a moment.

There’s so much to enjoy in this film, and whilst it has been marketed as an adventure tale, there is so much more to it than that. It’s emotionally complex, and despite its fantastical elements, has a very human story at its core. It covers things like loss, grieving and memories, but it never tries to beat you over the head with the message. Instead, the film allows you to just enjoy the magical adventure, whilst giving you the opportunity to take a lot more away from it if you wish.

The only thing that stopped this film from being completely perfect for me was the humour, which was a little disjointed. There were moments that were very funny and which felt earned, but there were other moments which felt a little forced, almost as if there was a concern that audiences would switch off if they weren’t laughing. When a film is as gorgeous to look at as this one, and with a storyline this compelling, that should never have been a concern.

The voice cast were excellent, and the three main leads were particularly great. Art Parkinson is likeable as the hero, Kubo, but he also brings a huge amount of emotional depth to this character. Charlize Theron is fantastic as Monkey as well, and Matthew McConaughey brings a lot of the laughs as Beetle. And, credit where credit’s due, Rooney Mara voiced one of the villains so well I had absolutely no idea it was her voice until the credits were rolling.

I could rave about this film all day, but to try and summarise, it is simply stunning. The story is compelling and interesting, and the animation is mind-blowingly beautiful. You might not have heard of Laika before, but this absolutely should be the film which puts them on the map. This is easily my favourite of the feature films they’ve released, and ‘Kubo and The Two Strings’ is also undoubtedly one of the finest animated offerings of 2016 so far.

Rating: 9.5/10