AnimationFix: ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ gets a song debut and an exhibit opening

Your regular round-up of the latest animation news, from HitFix reporter Emily Rome

Welcome to the first installment of AnimationFix, where on a regular basis I”ll supply you a round-up of recent animation news and my musings on both the hidden gems and the buzziest new footage and art from the world of toons.

First treat for you today: Regina Spektor”s Japanese-influenced cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” recorded for stop-motion animation Kubo and the Two Strings.

One of the film”s trailers previously gave us an early listen of the cover but just an instrumental section without Spektor”s vocals.

Kubo and the Two Strings, a action adventure movie set in a world inspired by ancient Japan, is a samurai story that aims for an epic scale rarely seen in stop-motion. In the film, young Kubo plays a magical three-stringed instrument like a shamisen, a Japanese lute featured prominently in this cover of the 1968 Beatles song. (Yes, a three-stringed instrument. The touching meaning of the film”s title becomes clear toward the end of the film.)

The cover is haunting yet sweet – haunting has become an overused tone for many song re-dos lately (exhibit A: Lana Del Rey”s “Once Upon a Dream” redux for Maleficent), but here haunting-meets-sweet seems to fit the song perfectly and is also apt for the film that delivers both eerie monsters and heartwarming moments. I love the way this rendition of “Guitar Gently Weeps” twists and builds with a rich collection stringed instruments.

Spektor”s song for Kubo“s end credit sequence is on the movie”s soundtrack, which was released on Friday and also features Dario Marianelli”s gorgeous and grand Japanese-inspired score. (Marianelli also arranged the “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” cover.)

[Update August 10, 1:56 p.m. ET: The music video for Kubo and the Two Strings” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is now online.]

Ahead of Kubo“s opening on August 19, last Friday was a big day for Laika, the Oregon-based animation studio behind Kubo. That day was the grand opening of an exhibit displaying puppets, props, and sets from the studio”s four features – Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and Kubo. Called From Coraline to Kubo: A Magical Laika Experience, the exhibit is open through August 28 at the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. Later this month, an exhibit devoted to Kubo will open at the Japanese American National Museum in Downtown Los Angeles” Little Tokyo.

I attended the Universal Studios exhibit”s grand opening on Friday. We got a close look at both Coraline”s and Norman”s houses at the Laika Experience – Norman”s in all its asymmetrical, wabi-sabi glory. My favorite monster from Kubo, Moon Beast, is on display along with several other Kubo puppets, and you can walk through a recreation of the tunnel that leads Coraline to the Other World.

A recreation of the tunnel to the Other World leads to the set for Coraline's house at the Laika Experience. Photo credit: Focus Features

For the talent behind Laika”s films, it was a walk down memory lane. In a speech at the exhibit”s grand opening event, Laika CEO and Kubo director Travis Knight said he got misty-eyed strolling through the exhibit recalling all the time spent on those four films. I chatted with Laika Puppet Fabrication Supervisor Georgina Hayns at the event, where I got to marvel at one of the masterfully detailed evil twin Sister puppets at her side – Hayns told me that she found herself singing “Memory” from Cats on her way back to her hotel after helping with set-up of the exhibit the night before. Laika celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, so the exhibit really was a visit through the past decade for the studio”s artists.

From left: Laika President & CEO Travis Knight, Laika Head of Production Arianne Sutner, Focus Features CEO Peter Kujawski. Knight and Sutner produced Kubo and the Two Strings, which is Knight”s directorial debut. Photo credit: Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Focus Features/AP Images

More AnimationFix:

• Start the countdown for Grand Admiral Thrawn: Season 3 of Star Wars Rebels got a premiere date. The Disney XD show”s return is set for Saturday, September 24. Grand Admiral Thrawn will get his much-anticipated Rebels debut in that episode. The Imperial commander is a fan-favorite character from now-non-canon 1991 novel Heir to the Empire. Lars Mikkelsen (brother of Rogue One actor Mads Mikkelsen) will voice the villain. A short new teaser trailer came with the premiere date announcement and features a brief glimpse at the 3D computer animated rendering of Thrawn:

Sausage Party faces the critics: A bunch of reviews for Seth Rogen”s beyond-raunchy animated comedy hit the web yesterday. Our own Drew McWeeny wrote, “Sausage Party is obviously the product of diseased minds, and I love it.” The R-rated movie currently holds a 92% “fresh” rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. You can read Drew”s full review here.

• Lena Dunham-voiced flick headed to NYFF: Today the New York Film Festival unveiled its main slate for this year”s event: Part of the line-up is hand-drawn animated film My Entire High School Is Sinking Into the Sea. Sounds like the name of a children”s book, but, like Sausage Party, this movie is not family-friendly. The festival”s director, Kent Jones, said the movie is strictly “not for kids – but funny.” It”s about people unable to outgrow their high school experience and is the first feature film directed by graphic novelist Dash Shaw. Among the voice cast are Lena Dunham, Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph, and Jason Schwartzman.

• Animation hat trick for Amy Schumer: The Trainwreck comedienne will have guest voice roles on three Fox shows, the network announced yesterday. She”ll be on the September 25 episodes of The Simpsons, Bob”s Burgers, and Family Guy, playing a different character on each show.

Tiger takes a trophy: At Saturday”s Television Critics Association Awards, the Outstanding Achievement in Youth Programming honor went to PBS show Daniel Tiger”s Neighborhood. PBS dominated the category, with fellow toon Nature Cat and live-action Odd Squad also nominated. The category”s two other nominees were Disney Junior”s Doc McStuffins and Sofia the First.

• No one bites like Lin and The Rock: A new TV spot for Moana revealed the lava monster the titular hero must face. With the debut of that promo (which aired during NBC”s Olympics coverage), Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda took over the Disney Animation Instagram account. Miranda co-wrote the movie”s music, and Johnson voices demigod character Maui. Most delightful in all this was the duo”s rendition of “Gaston.” With the part of Beauty and the Beast“s brawny and burly specimen, sung by, The Rock, of course.


Want to stay updated on the latest in animation? Follow Emily on Twitter at @EmilyNRome and get more entertainment news and analysis at @HitFix.