*Spoiler alert! Don’t read any further if you are avoiding spoilers. You’ve been warned!*
Kubo and the Two Strings opens with a touching scene of a woman washing up on shore with her child. Six years later the child, Kubo (Art Parkinson), earns money in the nearby village playing the shamisen. Kubo tells stories with his shamisen and magical paper which can fold into characters as the shamisen plays and reenact Kubo’s stories.
Kubo has to care for his mother (Charlize Theron) because she has lost her memory. Kubo’s mother warns he must come home every day before it becomes dark or his grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), and his daughters, The Sisters (Rooney Mara), will come and take his eye like they did before. When Kubo visits the village during festival and attempts to speak with his passed father he stays past dark.
We are then introduced to Kubo’s two aunts who are beautiful and otherworldly. These aunts are set on revenge for their father and attempt to take Kubo’s eye. Kubo’s mother saves him by giving her last bit of magic to him for his protection. Kubo grabs a strand of his mother’s hair as he grows wings and flies away. Kubo awakes to find a talking monkey (Charlize Theron) who is supposed to protect him from the vengeful sisters and his grandfather. Along the way the two meet a beetle (Matthew McConaughey) who has no memory but remembers Kubo’s father, the great samurai called Hanzo. The three then set out on a journey to find Kubo’s father’s armor of a breastplate, helmet, and sword with the help of a little origami samurai.
The introduction is structured well and builds a solid foundation for the story. It did a fine job building the main characters, Kubo, and his mother. The audience is given just enough of their history to pique curiosity for the rest of the story. I was set up with expectations of a fascinating story in this movie solely based off such an interesting beginning. Unfortunately, as the story continues on from when Kubo and Monkey meet Beetle, it remains disappointingly predictable. From learning Beetle and Monkey are really Kubo’s parents to the end when the evil Moon King ambushes Kubo and attempts to destroy him, Kubo and the Two Strings felt lacking in originality story wise.
Kubo and the Two Strings touched on death, memories, and family. These are themes we see time and again in many family movies, but unfortunately, it wasn’t told in any deep or original way. The themes in Kubo are strong and solid but the story line was too predictable and weak in places which left me feeling indifferent. I found myself continuing to ask, so why is this important again? Why am I suppose to care?
The character building for the Beetle, The Sisters, and the Moon King feels inadequate. I was not sure why I was supposed to really care about these characters. The movie tells you why you should care but fails to show it, which left me apathetic. Assuming we should care about the characters solely based off them being family just isn’t enough, especially when some of those family members want to take your eye!
The relationship between the Beetle and Kubo, along with the relationship between Kubo and the Moon King is flimsy. I lacked emotional interest in the death of Beetle who is supposed to be Kubo’s father. This is in contrast to the relationship between Kubo and his mother, where we are given a significant amount of understanding of their relationship due to the interesting storytelling in the beginning of the movie.
The Grandfather becomes human in the end but he is portrayed as an evil spirit, despite an attempt to humanize him in Kubo’s dream. I found it took me out of the immersion of the story when the village people are kind to him after his defeat. I kept feeling it happened too quickly without enough time to portray any slight hesitation about the Moon King among the village people or without time to adjust to why there is sympathy for the Moon King. The transition from evil Moon King to elderly forgetful grandfather was too abrupt. However, I loved the fact that Kubo’s real weapon and protection comes with his talent of playing the shamisen and the magic he creates with it. Kubo and his shamisen strung with his mother’s strand of hair and father’s string from a bow, save the day and the village people!
Despite my criticisms of the storyline, the stop-motion animation is exquisite! An impressive amount of work went into the process of creating this movie and it shows. The textured style lends to its beauty from the hair on the characters to the cloth on their kimonos. The large skeleton with swords stuck in its head was spectacular with its glowing eyes as it held onto Monkey and Beetle while Kubo struggles to find his father’s sword. The Sisters with their breakable masks are hauntingly beautiful, and the ship made of leaves is aesthetically pleasing. The art is incredible in this film!
The voices for the characters and the music are top notch and fitting. Art Parkinson is very believable as Kubo and did a stellar job interacting with the other characters in the movie. Charlize Theron as Kubo’s mother and Monkey did a marvelous job playing an overprotective parent of a boy being chased by his vengeful family. George Takei even plays a small role in this movie, but I’m not sure if I would have noticed right away if it wasn’t for his iconic “Oh my!” statement slipped into a scene.
There have been a lot of excellent animated films in 2016. While I personally do not think Kubo and the Two Strings is among the top of movies when it comes to storyline, the art and stop-motion animation make this film worth viewing. The art is among the best in a movie I’ve seen this year! Kubo and the Two Strings is a solid family movie with spectacular animation. Go see it in theaters!