Movie Review: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

The newest movie from the production company that brought you Boxtrolls, ParaNorman, and Coraline is here and unlike the last three films I mentioned, I was actually very excited to see Kubo and the Two Strings

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Kubo and the Two Strings kind of snuck up on me. I think I saw a single trailer for it and I thought “I really want to see that.”

And I did.

And I am so happy that I did.

Original and Compelling

I found myself immediately invested in the film and its characters from the outset of the first lines of the movie. I can’t say that for many other movies, if any (Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man comes to mind, but I can’t think of many more). The story is compelling from the very beginning to the very end, and the characters just as much so.

Kubo-Gallery-04The plot of Kubo and the Two Strings is the most original I’ve seen from any movie this year. The film follows a one-eyed boy with a magical instrument and superhuman origami skills who goes through a rite of passage journey with a stern monkey and a comedic beetle samurai to advise him. Their journey takes them to many different places, but ultimately it is what Kubo learns from this journey that is important.

Fantastic Animation

I have always loved “claymation” or stop-motion animation ever since I was a kid. I grew up on Wallace and Gromit, Nightmare Before Christmas, and James and the Giant Peach (which this movie reminded me of more so than Coraline or ParaNorman). Maybe that was why I was so drawn to see this movie despite how little advertising I saw for it.

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Stop-motion animation has never looked so good as in Kubo and the Two Strings. The character models were created with painstaking detail and it really pays off, even the most minute of details. The floral designs on the characters Oriental-inspired clothes really pop and look beautiful. (I foresee a lot of cosplay popping up for Kubo.) The computer animation used to build the background for the scenes so seamlessly blended with the claymation that at times I thought even the waves of the ocean were stop-motion animated.

The Good, The Bad, The Family

The story of Kubo and the Two Strings revolves around the theme of family. Which at first mention, makes it seem as if it is the perfect family movie, but family is not always good in this movie. In fact, the main antagonists are members of Kubo’s family who are trying to steal Kubo’s remaining eye. Talk about a dysfunctional family…

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While the film features some heart-pounding action scenes and the whole premise of the adventure is for Kubo to gather his late father’s armor so he can kill his grandfather, battle and revenge are not the focus of the film. The film’s resolution focuses shockingly on forgiveness and how kind words can actually change how a person perceives themselves. And its not done in some cheesy Full-House-cue-the-piano-music wrap-up. The resolution felt authentic and certainly was meaningful.

I must also applaud Laika for their bold and daring approach to the film’s resolution. The film does not resolve in a happy way where everything is better than before. Kubo will bear the scars (both physical and emotional) of the journey that he embarked on, but we are able to walk away from the theater with a feeling of hope as far as Kubo and his future is concerned.

The Acting

3617841900000578-3681901-image-m-58_1468042498138There was a surprisingly deep cast of voices for this movie that included Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, and a brief (but oh so recognizable) audio clip of George Takei. The main character of Kubo was voiced by Art Parkinson, who some may recognize as Rickon Stark from HBO’s Game of Thrones series. There weren’t any breakout performances (besides McConaughey’s very humorous beetle), but all the characters were consistently and solidly voiced.

The Music

With music being a big theme of the movie, you better believe that this film had a good soundtrack. The film’s Oriental setting greatly influenced the music as it did the characters’ designs. Kubo’s curious three-stringed instrument (a shamisen, if you must know) is featured prominently throughout the soundtrack. It’s such an interesting sound and instrument that I found myself wanting to learn to play after I left the movie. The soundtrack was composed by Dario Marianelli, who had composed Laika’s last film The Boxtrolls, as well as Jane Eyre, The Soloist, and Anna Karenina.

The Kids

Is this movie appropriate for kids? Yes.

There are some scary scenes throughout the movie, mainly those that involve Kubo’s evil and equally creepy aunts. There’s also some tentacled, multieyed monster and a giant, grisly skeleton. I wouldn’t advise this movie for smaller children, but it is great for upper elementary kids.

There is also a bit of ancestral worship throughout the movie. I only mention this because I know some people are concerned with exposing their children to foreign religions, but it’s part of the culture that this movie is based in and isn’t really a big deal. So, get over it. 

The Grade

Kubo and the Two Strings is refreshingly unique and original. In an industry so saturated with sequels and remakes, it’s nice to see some creators still have original ideas for original stories involving original characters. But Kubo’s charm doesn’t just stop with its originality; the film’s themes of a dysfunctional family, forgiveness, and losing loved ones are poignant and masterfully handled.

I give Kubo and the Two Strings a grade of…

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Have you seen Kubo and the Two Strings yet? I highly recommend that you do, even if you don’t have kids! It’s a charming story for all ages. I didn’t think an animated movie would top my love for Zootopia from this year, but Kubo is certainly in the running for my favorite film of this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it came down to a nail-biter between the two at this year’s Academy Awards. Let me know what you think of Kubo’s journey in the comments below!

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