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The most beautiful movie of 2016.

I saw Pete’s Dragon and Kubo and the Two Strings within a day of each other and they were wonderful companion pieces. Both films represent the very best in movies for kids, even as they give the adults tons of thematic richness potentially too complex for the kids to fully understand. They’ll feel stuff that stays with them, that they won’t recognize as coherent until long after its taken root. That’s the power of movies like these.

I have been a fan of Laika since Coraline and I would argue that ParaNorman is a masterpiece… but Kubo and the Two Strings blows all their other work out of the water. This is a movie that bleeds ambition, beauty, confidence, and grace. Every frame is a work of art and the kind of spectacle that will leave you scratching your head when you realize just how much of this movie is stop-motion with paper dolls and puppets. In Laika films, CGI is used only to enhance and to give backdrops, but you will have a hard time believing that.

Kubo is one of the best adventure movies since The Lord of the Rings, featuring the same tropes of quest narratives that are so well established but also very much taken for granted. It’s also heavy in a way that might surprise you. More even than Pete’s Dragon, which has an indie movie softness of tone, Kubo presents moments of powerful emotional weight that are punctuated by wonder, happiness, and humor. This movie is so well realized that it’s almost shocking how good it is. 2016 has been kind of a dismal year for films, but kids’ movies have consistently been great and Kubo is the best of them.

SPOILERS WILL NOT MAKE THIS MOVIE BETTER Read the rest of this entry »

Norman likes zombies. It won’t last.

ParaNorman is one of the great animated films during this animated film renaissance we’re having. Every year for the last pile I can remember has had at least one or two that make even people who think animated films are just trifles for kids think twice. With this one and Brave leading the way, 2012 is shaping up well for the genre. Sooner or later I’m going to have to stop separating animated films into their own broad genre. It’s more accurate that ParaNorman is a proper horror movie, though a lighter one and definitely family oriented, than “an animated film” as if it has more in common with Brave than with Hocus Pocus (it doesn’t).

As to why ParaNorman is so good, it mostly comes from a simple story about being tolerance. The movie is never preachy, always witty and full of heart, and gets across a familiar theme: some people are different and how we treat them matters, but so does how they treat us. ParaNorman is wonderfully even-handed about it. The theme and its adjuncts are easy to view through the frame of bullying, a hot topic in North America, and I can’t imagine this is unintentional. It might be worthwhile, then, to summarize ParaNorman as the best kids’ movie about bullying that I can remember.

But it is also more than that. Read the rest of this entry »

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