Kubo and the Two Strings has impressive stop-motion animation, a fun voice cast, and a story that will draw in people that like Hayao Miyazaki films, but a slow pace and dreamy tone may lull audiences to sleep while dragging it down overall.
Long ago in ancient Japan, Kubo and his mother lived on the outskirts of a small village. While his mother lived almost constantly in a catatonic state, Kubo earned money in the town by doing magical performances with his guitar and animated origami. However, when his mother would occasionally emerge from her daze, she would tell Kubo stories of his dead Samurai father. She would also warn him not to go out at night for fear that the supernatural Moon King might spot him and try and take Kubo’s other eye.
Inevitably, Kubo fails to follow his mother’s instructions and is caught outside at night. And almost immediately he is attacked by The Sisters, the daughters of the Moon King. As they attack Kubo and the town, his Mother intervenes and saves him using the last of her hidden magical powers. She gives Kubo wings and he flies away to safety.
When Kubo awakes the next morning, he finds himself joined by a surly talking female monkey. The Monkey tells Kubo that he is in great danger and the only way he can save himself is to find a magical sword, helmet, and armor. It’s the only way he can defend himself against the Moon King, so Kubo goes on a quest to find the magical items with his new companion, but there is more to their story than any of them suspect.
Kubo and the Two Strings is rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril.
Kubo and the Two Strings is another interesting stop-motion film from LAIKA, the people that made The Boxtrolls, ParaNorman, and Coraline. They are helping to keep this animation art form alive and it’s quite impressive here. As immersed as I was in the story, I’d occasionally think, “Wow! How did they pull off that shot?” You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a CG film. After all, there are so many CG-animated films now and some of them, like The LEGO Movie, use a style to make it look stop-motion animated. But this utilizes the technique and actually does supplement it with come CG effects. It’s a combination of art forms that together make a visually-stunning film.
I heard someone describe Kubo and the Two Strings as a stop-motion Hayao Miyazaki film and that’s as best a description as I can think of. Miyazaki films typically have a dreamy tone, magical elements, Japanese mythology, and Asian themes. Kubo embodies all of that. But also throw in the action of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and you start to get the feeling of what you’re in for with this movie.
The voice cast is generally quite good. Art Parkinson from Game of Thrones is the voice of Kubo. He well embodies the spirit and determination of the one-eyed hero. Surprisingly, this is the first animated voice performance by Matthew McConaughey and he’s excellent as Beetle. You wouldn’t think an actor with a Texas drawl could pull off a role as a Japanese samurai beetle man, but he manages to make it work. Rooney Mara is creepy in a dual role as The Sisters. She’s likely to give kids nightmares. Her characters also reminded me of Thunder, Rain, and Lightning in Big Trouble in Little China, which was cool. Ralph Fiennes has relatively little screen time as the Moon King, but he makes a big impression with the time he is in the movie. And George Takei has a bit part as the villager Hosato, but he does manage to sneak in an “Oh, my!” line at one point.
I don’t know what it was about Kubo and the Two Strings, but my youngest son really wanted to see it. He had recently taken up doing origami, so maybe that’s what drew him. But he absolutely loved it. And seeing him enjoy it made the outing all the more enjoyable for me.
What Didn’t Work:
As great as Kubo and the Two Strings is in many respects, I do have to admit that it is quite slow in many parts. The story doesn’t really pick up until Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle get into action, and that is rather late in the film. It has that slow, dreamy, artsy flow of storytelling that can actually lull you into sleep if you’re not careful. I recommend heavy doses of caffeine and sugar while watching it. This took away from some of my enjoyment of it because I simply got bored.
I’m a big fan of Charlize Theron and I was excited to see she had a role here, but she was rather flat as Monkey. Maybe it’s partly because her character is intended to be a stick in the mud who tries to protect Kubo, but a lot of her line delivery was flat and almost monotone. The voice didn’t seem to match the monkey character.
I also felt the ending was a bit of a disappointment. I can’t get into specifics here without ruining it, but I’ll just say that the day is saved by Kubo and the villagers perpetuating a lie. It’s a well-intentioned lie, but a lie nevertheless. I’m not sure it’s the best message to send to kids, but I also doubt that kids are thinking about it as deeply as parents may be.
The Bottom Line:
Is Kubo and the Two Strings good? Yes. Is it worth seeing on the big screen with a carload of kids? Yes. Is it something you’ll want to watch more than once? Probably not, but it is one of the better animated films of the year.
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