Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings Review

"If you must blink, do it now."

Good advice Kubo, but who the hell would want to blink while watching something this gorgeous?

The amount of detail put into the film Kubo and the Two Strings by the ingenious studio Laika is staggering. It is a joy to witness because the craftsmanship that goes into every frame they construct is an aspect of excellent stop-motion work that doesn't get nearly enough credit, as I suspect that many whom would attend a film like this would lump it into a pile of "kid's movies". The irony of this, of course, is that many younger aged children may lose interest in a story like Kubo's while the older you get, the more appreciation you will have for the storytelling. Sure, screenwriters Marc Haimes and Chris Butler include humor and fun characters that will appeal to the tiniest of viewers, but their ability to pour so much soulful mythology and meaningful emotion into young Kubo's journey should be admired by anyone and everyone, no matter how resistant they might be to buying into animation.

The opening imagery of the film is arresting and perfect, the sight of a woman trying to navigate the violent waves of a stormy sea under the nighttime glow of the moon, and mother nature gets the best of her when she crashes and hits her head in the process. Coming to after washing up on a nearby beach, she hears a familiar cry and rushes to it, the sound of her baby son Kubo crying in the sack she kept him in to protect him from the devastating environment. They survived, but why were they facing such perilous circumstances in the first place? Who or what are they running away from?

The head injury would cause lasting effects, as we flash forward in their lives to a point when Kubo is now taking care of his mother as she shows signs of the trauma during the day, living as if she is in a vegetative state, only to become alert when the sun sets each night. As soon as the world is consumed by darkness, she says the same thing immediately each day: "Kubo". Her concern for his well being in this moment is addressed through vital flash backs and some dialogue, but nothing close to the type of exposition that would drag the film down. Without getting too detailed because it is best to learn all about the world Kubo lives in while you watch the film, he should never be out when the sun goes down. A dangerous part of their past lurks, waiting for the right moment to strike.

A wonderfully assembled vocal cast bring these characters to life, starting with Art Parkinson as Kubo, Charlize Theron as Monkey, Matthew McConaughey as Beetle, and Ralph Fiennes and Rooney Mara as the aforementioned threats that means to do Kubo harm. Travis Knight makes his directorial debut here although his spot in Laika is not new, previously being the Head of Animation before becoming the President & CEO of the studio in 2009, and his first crack at directing may have produced their best film yet. This may not sound like a big deal considering they only have four films under their belt, but if you understand how much I love the nightmarish experience that is their first picture Coraline, you would know that weighing the possibility that Kubo might be better means a lot.

For some, going to see an animated film brings an expectation of silliness and non-stop comedic beats, with a film like The Secret Life of Pets dominating the box office while the early results of Kubo and the Two Strings have been disappointing. As a massive fan of the work of Studio Ghibli and the master Hayao Miyazaki, bringing more of a melancholy tone and weighty themes into animation is everything I could want and hope for, and Kubo delivers. Don't be afraid to challenge your children with work that has a lot of substance. I can only speak to my experience with my daughter seeing this brand new Laika gem, but she is 8 and took to the exploration of an after-life and the idea of showing appreciation for those that have left us. Even at her single digit age, she eats up both the darkness and the light that is showcased by such mature, compelling cinema.

A fascinating adventure steeped in Japanese folklore with an ending that sticks the landing, go support Kubo and the Two Strings. We need films like this to live on.



  1. I agree with everything. Kubo was such a great surprise, and I loved it so much that I immediately went out and bought Coraline and Paranorman, which I've both seen but never owned. I can't wait to get this on Blu-ray, and quite possibly get to check this out again in the theaters. I also wrote a review for this movie and if you're interested you can see it here:

    1. Ah took a quick love to Laika, that's awesome. Kubo is capable of doing that to a lot of people if they are willing to check it out in the first place. The craftsmanship of these films deserve appreciation.

      Heading to check out your review in just a few, thanks!

  2. How would you order the laika films from best to "worst"? I just rewatched Coraline last night and after seeing it again I have to admit that I love it, but I think I like what they were able to accomplish in that film rather than the story so my list has to go like
    1. Kubo and the two strings
    2. Paranorman
    3. Coraline
    4. Box Trolls
    Mind you that like Pixar the top 3 are very close to each other. Box trolls was fine, but it was more kid friendly aimed out of all the films thus far.

    1. I would flip Coraline and Paranorman but yeah, otherwise the same. No beef with Box Trolls, but a 3/5 "liked it" more than something I loved. Laika is 4/4 making films I would recommend though, for sure.