My Rating: 8.5 out of 10
I have to admit that I was a little hesitant about Kubo and the Two Strings when I first saw the trailer for the film. The stop-motion animation style isn’t my favorite because it can sometimes look robotic and take me out of an otherwise good movie. However, I was pleasantly surprised that Kubo far exceeded my expectations not only with its animation, but also with its story and tone. Kubo and the Two Strings is the story of a one-eyed boy named Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson), who lives in a cave with his sickly mother (voiced by Charlize Theron), whom he cares for when she slips into a catatonic state. During the day, Kubo goes into the village to entertain the townsfolk using enhanced origami manipulated by his magical shamisen (a stringed instrument). However, he must return to the cave every night or risk being discovered by his grandfather, the moon king, who wishes to steal Kubo’s other eye.
Before I get into more detail about the story and themes, I have to say that the animation ended up being amazing. It was hard to believe that everything was done through stop-motion since all the movements felt so fluid. The colors and lighting were also incredible and used to great effect to enhance the mood of several scenes. My initial assumption was completely wrong and I never found myself being pulled out of the story by the animation. In fact, I’m curious to learn more about the process and understand how much stop-motion has improved since I was a kid. The soundtrack was also excellent at creating the right mood throughout. In particular, I loved the cover of My Guitar Gently Weeps.
So, many of you that read my reviews know that I absolutely love when a movie is entertaining and has something meaningful to say. Kubo is definitely one of those films. I was surprised by how intensely the film began and how dark its subject matter was. In America, animated films are usually looked at movies for young kids, but Kubo immediately skirts this stereotype and explores some hefty and interesting themes that many live action films avoid. In addition, the film isn’t tied up with a neat, happily-ever-after ending, but instead goes for a more somber conclusion that stays true to the story and themes presented in the rest of the first two acts. Instead of trying to be more accessible to young children, Kubo presents its story with realistic character interactions and doesn’t shy away from violent or frightening imagery when necessary.
Kubo and the Two Strings explores ideas of love, hope, loss, and destiny all while remaining suspenseful, unique, and interesting. There were a couple of twists in the story as well, which I think the audience was meant to see coming (as I did) based on clues presented earlier in the film. I also found the motivations of the villains and heroes to be fascinating. While Kubo’s godlike grandfather and aunts want to arrogantly live in ignorance to the plights of humanity, while Kubo and his mother saw the good of the world. One of the most powerful quotes in the entire film is connected to this idea. In response to the question of why humans fight so hard to live if they are born to die eventually, Kubo’s mother says, “because, down here, there are days worth living for.” The idea that the beautiful moments in life make it worth suffering through the worst moments is powerful and inspirational.
I’ve heard the saying that great art can get into your head or great art can get into your heart, but the best art can reach both. Kubo is undoubtedly a film that could do both. It is filled with emotion, but also makes you think about the nature of life, death, and love. While I wouldn’t recommend the film for young kids, I think older children, teens, and adults can get a lot out of it. The filmmakers added some humor to the story as well in order to prevent it from becoming too bleak. Unfortunately, one of the only things that took me out of the film was the tonal shift caused by a couple of the comedic moments involving Beetle and Monkey. That’s not to say that those scenes weren’t good (they were uplifting and meaningful to the story), but the change in mood was a bit jarring. However, these couple scenes did not diminish my love for the film and its excellent tonal balance. I highly recommend seeing Kubo and the Two Strings and will be buying it for my movie collection soon.