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Animators share joy of making ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’

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The beautiful “Kubo and the Two Strings” tells a magical, touching story. (Courtesy Laika/Focus Features)

In today’s golden age of animated films, the new “Kubo and the Two Strings” is extraordinary.

Unlike many animated movies created purely for marketing purposes, “Kubo,” which opens Friday, clearly stems from the love of storytelling.

“It’s completely uncynical,” says Travis Knight, the film’s director and chief executive officer of Laika, the Oregon-based studio also responsible for “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” and “The Boxtrolls.”

“In this age that we live in, that’s kind of a rarity. It could come across as old-fashioned if you don’t have a wink and a nod for the audience,” adds Knight, recently in The City with producer Arianne Sutner to promote the film. (I brought my 10-year-old son Alex to the interview.)

The story follows Kubo (Art Parkinson), who has the power to create moving origami creatures via a magical stringed instrument. Accompanied by Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), Kubo must go on a journey to locate three pieces of magical armor.

Practically glowing with enthusiasm, speaking quickly and excitedly about his influences, Knight said “Star Wars” fans may notice several small nods to the original trilogy, and that three monsters Kubo faces were inspired by stop-motion legend Ray Harryhausen (“The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” and “Jason and the Argonauts”).

The trick behind one monster, a giant skeleton, is revealed during the film’s end credits.

Describing the creation of a field of giant underwater eyeball monsters, Knight says, “We made only one of them, and it was 11 feet tall. We had this trackpad, and two hacked computer mice hooked up to a bowling ball, and the operator would move the eye with the bowling ball.”

A bigger challenge involved shooting stop-motion figures underwater. He says, “In stop-motion animation, going underwater is a bit of a no-no. It’s very tricky.”

One sequence took about a year and a half to make.

Interestingly, the magic, imagination and fantasy in “Kubo” all are rooted in research and reality, according to Sutner, who said, “If we don’t get that right, it will jar the audience and take you out of the fantasy.”

The people who created the movie, Knight says, took it on a very personal level: “Kubo is a storyteller; he’s an artist. He’s an animator, when you think about it; he’s animating paper. So many of us animators saw ourselves in this boy.”

Kubo and the Two Strings
Starring: Voices of Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara
Written by: Marc Haimes, Chris Butler, Shannon Tindle
Directed by: Travis Knight
Rated PG
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

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