Kubo and the Two Strings tells a wonderfully mystical coming-of-age story about Kubo (Art Parkinson), a young boy who plays a shamisen daily that magically manipulates origami to illustrate the stories that his mother has told him over the years. It is these same stories that helps support his dying mother. Kubo's mother warns Kubo not to stay out after dark, but kids being kids, Kubo finds himself late home after praying for contact from his deceased father. Kubo is attacked by his two aunties (Rooney Mara), but manages to make it home after his mother sacrifices the last of her magic to secure his safety. Kubo learns that his mother and father both sacrificed themselves during an attack by her family that's full of vengeful and powerful gods. Kubo's mother barely managed to escape their assault on her family in a beautifully melancholic scene that was reminiscent of The Great Wave off Kanagawa.
After Kubo's mother fends off "The Sisters", Kubo awakens to Monkey (Charlize Theron), a lucky charm that Kubo had kept with him that his mother brought to life to protect him. With the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and The Sisters out to get Kubo's right eye, Monkey and Kubo set out to collect the three items that can defeat the Moon King. The Indestructible Sword, The Impenetrable Armor and The Helmet Invulnerable. Soon along their travels they come across a Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) with a hazy memory who joins their mission when he finds out that Kubo is the son of his former master, Hanzo. And so the trio set off on a mission to protect a helpless child by collecting these three fabled artifacts and in slaying the god who's after Kubo's eye.
The first thing I love about Kubo, as superficial as it may be, is the stop-motion animation. It is truly spectacular. Stop-motion movies will always feel like they have more texture, substance and weight than their purely cgi counterparts have. I find that even The Peanuts Movie falls more into the stop-motion category, despite not being stop-motion at all. Its visual creativity and uniqueness sets it apart from the more traditional cgi movies, in my opinion of course. Kubo still utilizes cgi when it absolutely has to, but it's a stop-motion movie from beginning to end, and a dazzling one at that.
The score was wonderful, and I imagine, was done very respectfully. I've spoken to quite a few Japanese people about Kubo and they all praise it as being respectful to Japanese mythology and culture. The characters designs were amazing, especially if you knew of all the extensive efforts that went into bringing them to life. The action scenes, which are usually awkward to do with stop-motion, were done remarkably well. The movements and the choreography of the fight scenes were all top notch. Kubo probably has some of the best stop-motion that has ever been produced.
The biggest flaw of Kubo is the vagueness of the story. Kubo himself is a fairly static character throughout his own movie, empathetic, yes, involving, not really. Which leaves most of the character development and emotion to come from the Monkey and the Beetle, which they did deliver, mostly. But I found that most of the most laughs came from the little paper Hanzo. The deadpan jokes from the Monkey and the "alright, alright, alright" attitude from the Beetle didn't work for me as much as little Hanzo did. The plot of Kubo floats around a lot and there's still so much that's left unsaid and/or unanswered in the narrative that I really wanted to see and know. There were a few fade-outs as well, like after Kubo or the Monkey does something incredibly awesome, the screen will then fade-out. It made sense in the beginning, but it soon became annoying and was overused.
Kubo may have been a by-the-notes 'hero's journey' adaption, to a degree, but it's such a crisp, enjoyable and immersive movie that it didn't bother me at all. Kubo does throwaway the textbook 'hero's journey' tropes as well, but I won't say when or how, only that it subverts a few expectations. You'll have to see it for yourself. The story itself was a rather deep one, thematically. It deals a lot with death, memories, and how to move on from the ones we love.
An extra ten minutes would have helped flesh out the story a lot better, given it some more context to work in, but I think they wanted to keep the focus on the mysterious and on Kubo. On a sadder note, how can a marvelously delightful movie (depending on your PoV) like Kubo barely gross over $60 million at the box office while The Angry Birds Movie grossed $350 million? Even Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 managed to take in over $100 million. What a shame... Kubo deserved so much better.
Written by - The Sentry - 12/11/2016