Phil Knight childhood
Steve Wong Jr | Laika Studios / Universal Pictures International
Laika has definitely come of age with “Kubo and the Two Strings.” The stop-motion samurai fantasy represents a summation of everything the Portland studio has accomplished with its four films to date. Its vision of mythic Japanese folklore is epic and exquisite while its heroic rite of passage is thrilling and tender. No wonder Laika president/CEO Travis Knight plunged into directing “Kubo, ” undoubtedly the animation studio’s strongest Oscar contender.
Not surprisingly, “Kubo’s” also deeply personal for Knight. “It’s a story fundamentally about family, about a time when we cross that Rubicon from childhood to adulthood, ” said Knight, “the things that we gain and the things that we leave behind.”
Clever, kindhearted Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson of “Game of Thrones”) ekes out a humble living in a seaside town with his mother, telling stories and playing his shamisen. That is, until Kubo accidentally summons a spirit that enforces an age-old vendetta and hurls him on an adventure to save his family, battling giant monsters and demons with the help of two spirits: Monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron) and the samurai Beetle (Matthew McConaughey).
When Knight was growing up, he was an obsessive fan of big fantasy. “Back when my mom [Penny] was pregnant with me and when I was born, she was reading ‘Lord of the Rings, ’ he said. “It was one of the great gifts that was bestowed upon me by my mother. I loved Tolkien and I loved ‘Star Wars, ’ which was the first memory that I have being in a movie theater. And, of course, that was the defining movie for me as a kid.”
Anther was when Knight’s father, Nike owner Phil Knight, took him to Japan for the first time when he was eight. It was a life-altering experience for the Oregon native and ever since he’s had a deep and abiding love for the beauty of Japan and its culture.