Kubo and the Two Strings Review
“If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see and hear, no matter how unusual it may seem. And please be warned: If you fidget, if you look away, if you forget any part of what I tell you – even for an instant – then our hero will surely perish”, says the little storyteller Kubo (Art Parkinson) as the animated movie Kubo and the Two Strings begins. The boy Kubo is setting the stage to tell a story to the villagers where he captivates them every day with tales of heroes and legends and monsters. His audience mirrors us watching this movie as we get drawn into a beautiful heroic quest tale set in feudal Japan.
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Kubo is a little boy with one eye who is imbued with magical talent. He lives with his mother in a cave by the sea. Every day he goes to the nearby village where he uses his magical talents to tell stories. As he plays his shamisen, he brings little origami figures to life, acting out tales of the hero Hanzo. Kubo earns money with his fascinating storytelling, and he’s a favorite among the villagers. Every evening before darkness sets in, he hurries home to the cave where he takes care of his mother. Unwell, the mother feels broken by her past experiences. When she is in her right mind, however, she is loving and affectionate and tells her son wonderful stories. Still, her mind wanders and he takes care of her when she cannot.
Through her stories, Kubo knows that the legendary hero Hanzo is his deceased father. He also knows that he must not be out after dark. His mother fears her evil sisters and Kubo’s grandfather the Moon King will find him, but the danger is not as imminent to him as it is to her.
One evening the villagers hold a ceremony celebrating their deceased ancestors. Kubo tries to connect with his father, but he receives no response from his spirit. Frustrated, he forgets his mother’s warnings, and as darkness falls, his terrifying aunts do find him. His mother appears to save him. In the tragic confrontation, Kubo is separated from his mother and wakes up miles away with the first companion of his hero’s quest. The little wooden monkey charm he wears around his neck has come to life and become the stern, no-nonsense Monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron). His mother’s magic brought her to life to protect him from danger.
Monkey tells the boy about the village’s destruction and how his aunts will not give up searching for him. Kubo and Monkey must now find the magical armor of his father to help him defeat his evil family.
Pay careful attention to everything you see and hear, no matter how unusual it may seem.
Kubo’s magical quest takes him far across land, sea, and air. It is in many ways the typical heroic odyssey where he meets various obstacles and confronts the villain in the end. He even finds companions to help him reach his goal. Besides Monkey, they cross paths with a humanoid beetle (played by Matthew McConnaughey), a former samurai who has lost his memory though he recalls that he was a protégé of Hanzo.
Yet the story still contains several unexpected turns. For instance, I loved that although like many heroes before him, circumstances tear Kubo and his mother apart, she still remains a very important part of the plot. At one point, he learns more about her mystical background and how she met his father. It’s a gorgeous romantic tale which could probably be a movie on its own.
If you fidget, if you look away, if you forget any part of what I tell you
– even for an instant –
then our hero will surely perish
Of course, the story is also intriguing because of the excellent characters. Monkey is one of Kubo’s most fascinating companions, a stern, imposing guardian. It seems hard to break past her cool exterior, but her charge manages to soften her a little. She’s a fighter and a powerful protector. Charlize Theron gives her a rich, commanding voice which suits the character very well. Beetle turns out to be the enjoyable comic relief. He is cheerful despite his difficult situation, delighting Kubo and annoying Monkey. Nevertheless, he is also a strong and helpful friend to a lost boy on his impossible quest. McConnaughey handles his role well in both fun and dramatic scenes.
If you must blink do it now.
As Kubo wanders along through this magical world, it draws us in. This world is beautiful and varied with stunning scenery whether the characters are watching golden herons rising into the air or sailing across the ocean in a magical boat made of leaves. As they did in movies like Coraline, Paranorman and The Box Trolls, the creators of Kubo, Studio Laika, use stop motion animation which gives a warm, living feel to the characters. If you were captivated by the vibrant characters and sights within their other movies, you won’t be disappointed with Kubo. CGI helps smooth out the movement and background, and the result is exquisite.
The characters move and fight fluidly and intensely. Kubo’s living origami dashes about in creative and cunning ways. Even Monkey’s shaggy fur moves realistically and organically. You feel like reaching out and ruffling through it (though you’d be very sharply reprimanded if you did). Unsurprisingly, Kubo has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects.
In the end, everything comes together in a story which keeps you riveted, a true legend about family and love and loss as the many elements of Kubo’s amazing family come together. Studio Laika has created another masterpiece. I highly recommend this movie by master storytellers.
Photos by Laika Entertainment
“The stuff that dreams are made of.”