Kubo and the Two Strings
Directed by: Travis Knight.
Written by: Marc Haimes and Chris Butler and Shannon Tindle.
Starring: Charlize Theron (Monkey), Art Parkinson (Kubo), Ralph Fiennes (Moon King), George Takei (Hosato), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Hashi), Brenda Vaccaro (Kameyo), Rooney Mara (The Sisters), Matthew McConaughey (Beetle), Meyrick Murphy (Mari), Minae Noji (Minae), Alpha Takahashi (Aiko), Laura Miro (Miho), Ken Takemoto (Ken).
With Kubo and the Two Strings, animation company Laika inches closer to the truly great film that I am confident they are going to make. The companies’ fourth film – following Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls – is easily the most visually stunning film yet from the studio who mixes stop motion animation with computer effects. The film really is a technical wonder all the way around – the visuals are breathtaking, yes, but the music and sound work is just as good. I also appreciated how the film treats its young audience with respect – it doesn’t talk down to them, doesn’t soft peddle the harsher moments of the film, and isn’t afraid to scare them – just a little, anyway. The film would have been too much for my sensitive 5 year old – but give it a year, and she’d be blown away by it. The only slightly disappointing thing about the film is that it gets less daring as it goes along – its twists are fairly obvious from the outset, and what starts as a beautiful film about mourning and loss, turns into a fairly standard adventure film. Still, when a film gives you this much to like about it, it feels kind of strange to complain.
The story is about a young boy named Kubo – who lives with his sickly mother in a cave, and has to care for her. Every day, he ventures into the city with his three stringed guitar like instrument (you read that right, not quite sure why the movie is called Kudo and the Two Strings – I assume it’s a metaphor) and dazzles the assembled audience with a street performance that involves music, storytelling, and origami that comes to life. But he always has to be back at the cave by sundown – his mother tell him this is because her father, Kubo’s grandfather, who stole his eye, and killed Kubo’s father can see him at night if he’s not protected – and he will come to steal his other eye. So, of course, you know what will happen – Kubo will be caught out one nights, and his mother’s twin sisters come looking for him. He barely escapes – thanks to his mother – and ends up going on a quest with Monkey, his protector, and eventually a samurai who is also a giant Beetle, who cannot remember how he got there. He needs to find the three pieces of magical armor that will be the only thing that can protect him from his grandfather.
From their first film, Laika has made visually stunning movies. Coraline is one of the few animated film that really utilized 3-D remarkably well, although Kubo comes close in that regard (if I had one complaint about the 3-D it’s just that Kubo is a fairly dark film visually to begin with – adding dark lens in front of that makes it, on occasion, too dark). Kubo and the Two Strings is, in every other respect, the most advanced film Laika has made visually – with barely a frame going by without something stunning to look at. An early highlight is the musical sequences, where the origami comes to life in inventive ways. There are also a more than a few moments that will likely cause a few bad dreams for the younger viewers – when the big bad guy finally does make an appearance, he takes the form of a giant centipede, which is creepy – but far creepier are the pair of twin sisters, in masks no less, who are extremely spooky. The action sequences in the film – especially those involving water, as a memorable fight sequence does, are among the best of their kind in recent memory.
Kubo and the Two Strings has a fairly deep message as well – one that the film pitches at a younger audience, without talking down to them. This is most deeply felt in the opening act of the film – as Kubo deals with his sick mother and the fact he doesn’t even remember his now dead father. The film tries to come back around to this message in the end – and it mainly works, but also feels a little bit like an afterthought, after the action is over.
Kubo and the Two Strings joins the like of Zootopia, Finding Dory and April and the Wonderful World (among others), in what has already been a strong year in animation – even if I don’t think any of the films are quite great, they are all quite good. Kubo and the Two Strings is probably too much for little kids – especially if, like my daughter, they are easily scared – but brave kids will love it – and their parents will get far more out of it than they do most of the time they are stuck taking their kids to the movies.