Kubo and the Two Strings

 photo kubo_and_the_two_strings_ver13_zpstii1y4fz.jpg photo starrating-4stars.jpgA new production from Laika Entertainment is something to celebrate. They’re the creators behind the Oscar-nominated features Coraline and ParaNorman, animated films I adored. Unlike rivals Pixar or Walt Disney, the studio specializes in stop-motion animation in which an actual object is physically manipulated one frame at a time to create a moving image. The advent of computer animation has currently replaced the once ubiquitous traditional hand-drawn approach. Their technique is a unique and specialized art. Characters have the look of moving puppets. When it’s done well, it’s transcendent. Their latest, Kubo and the Two Strings, is a welcome addition to Laika’s growing oeveure.

The animated tale takes place in ancient Japan. Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy who lives with his single mother. She has taken ill. At night, when she becomes active, Kubo attends to and cares for her. By day, he journeys to the local village square where he plays his beloved shamisen, a Japanese three string guitar. His performances magically summon origami creatures to life as they act out the legend of his father, Hanzo, a great warrior who died while protecting him. Unfortunately shadowy figures from his past, Kubo’s witch-like aunts (both Rooney Mara), discover his whereabouts and he is separated from his mother (Charlize Theron). He is offered help from Monkey (also Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a samurai with the appearance of a beetle-like man. Together they must find the three components of his father’s armor to use as protection from his evil grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes).

“If you must blink, do it now,” warns Kubo in the very first line of spoken dialogue. And indeed there is so much to appreciate visually. The spectacle positively dazzles the eye. Each acquisition in their quest is a marvel to witness. The extraction of The Sword Unbreakable from a humongous skeleton, The Armor Impenetrable, a breastplate, hidden below the sea in the Garden of Eyes, and the of the location of The Helmet Invulnerable revealed in a dream. That last revelation leads to the climatic showdown.

Kubo and the Two Strings has all the attributes of classic folklore – an account that has been passed down from one generation to the next. But don’t go looking for this fantasy in some sacred text. The original screenplay was written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler, with a “Story By” credit for Shannon Tindle. Given the contemporary origins of the saga, I suppose I can forgive the Hollywood movie star voices in the place of actors that could have better conveyed the authenticity of feudal Japan. Despite the somewhat generic “hero’s journey” trappings of the adventure, the drama touches upon some weighty themes. You have to admire a cartoon that challenges younger viewers to consider the nature of humanity. Is death really the end of someone’s life when one is still held in the hearts of those that loved them?  Along the way, the chronicle never ceases to be anything less than captivating. The style is so crisp, colorful and vibrant, that it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of the craft. This picture is simply a joy to behold.

08-23-16

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14 Responses to “Kubo and the Two Strings”

  1. smilingldsgirl Says:

    I agree it really is a captivating film. I was blown away by the visuals especially when the paper would move and create new things. That was amazing! I also really loved Kubo as a character. He was so earnest and sweet. I was rooting for him and when he would smile it made me very happy. He’s the kind of character you want to see happy. My only small gripe was I would have ended it just a hair sooner with more of a brave bittersweet ending. And I guess the voices could have been more authentic but like you I can forgive that.

    • There was such a sense of purpose in the way Kubo would journey to the market square each day to dazzle the locals with his fables. The art of storytelling is a skill this movie understands and honors. The way those origami characters came to life was astonishing. I know it’s”just a cartoon” but there was such a grandeur in the way it was presented. I got caught up in the majesty of it all.

  2. Saw this last night and was pleasantly surprised. Man it is a visual delight, that was what I liked most about it. I was less enthralled with the story generally but the weight of its themes as you say actually separate it from other animated flicks. One or two of Pixar’s entries have gone into some dark territory before but Kubo and the Two Strings almost dwells in melancholy. which is a good thing, I think. Definitely one for more mature kids. Hopefully I’ll have a review up by tomorrow. . .

    • Kubo doesn’t just “almost” dwell in melancholy, it dives in head first and wallows in it. Kudos to the filmmakers to trust that children can handle such weighty themes. It’s a risk, but one that pays off handsomely for viewers of all ages. 🤓

  3. I saw this on Saturday and I just loved it, the best film I’ve seen this year by far!

  4. I’ve heard many good things about Kubo from my colleagues. I’m not surprised to hear that it positively dazzles the eye, since I got the sense it would be very unique from a visual perspective. Just as you say in your review, I’ve heard that the film tackles familiar themes from classic folklore. Like you, I also wish that the filmmakers had cast voice actors who could give greater authenticity to feudal Japan. I’m happy to hear that the movie tackles weighty themes and that it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of its craft. Very much looking forward to seeing it.

  5. I really want to see this now. Still don’t like the recognizable voices here. When I saw the previews I just heard Charlize and Matthew so I was like, meh. You’re review has me excited.

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