This film actually did something that few animated movies managed to accomplish, intrigue me with its story. The film uses Shinto elements of history and rite of passage as it’s sell, and me being a sucker for Japanese art brought right into it. The stop animation studio Laika, which is responsible for such films as ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls have a pretty good critical track record for a studio just over a decade old so I wanted to see if their track record held up for yet another hit, and boy did it hold.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a story about a boy named well…Kubo. Honestly, I thought Kubo was a girl based on the trailers, shows you how much attention I pay to detail. The film begins with his mother voiced by Charlize Theron, fleeing an evil force in the sea in the middle of a major storm. After a massive wave takes her out causing a severe head injury, baby Kubo, and his mother takes refuge in a cave off the shore just outside of an Ancient Japanese Town. A few years have passed and Kubo makes a living using his mythical powers via a magic banjo to tell stories by bringing origami figurines to life. However, trouble arrives in the form of his evil family and Kubo is forced to flee the town at the expense of his mother’s life. Kubo then awakens in the middle of nowhere next to a talking monkey who tells him that he must find his late father’s armor and sword in order to defeat the evil coming after him, the evil in the form of his own grandfather.
There are many interesting elements this story brings together for a film of this nature. One of the biggest elements in this film is traditional family values. The film puts great emphasis on family legacy and honoring family members living and dead. Kubo himself comes from one of the most dysfunctional family in history. Kubo’s father Hanzo, died protecting him and his mother from his mother’s evil family. His mom disgraced her sisters and her father by falling in love with a warrior and showing mercy to humanity. Because of this Kubo’s own grandfather stole his left eye in order to turn him into a ruthless warrior with no remorse for human emotions…and you thought your Thanksgiving Dinner was hard to sit through. Kubo has never experienced a true family setting and never knowing the type of person his father weighs heavily on his life.
Visually, Kubo and the Two Strings has much going for it. The team at Laika doesn’t go over the top with their animation but they succeed in capturing stunning set pieces that enhance their storytelling, emotionally capturing the audience. Given the younger audience, this is aimed at, the film plays similarly to a bedtime story. Many backstories in the film that requires a visual almost dream-like narrative. This is cleverly done by adapting a living figurine to play the role of storyteller and in most cases, spell out the objectives for our characters. With all the praise I’m giving this movie, there was one disappointing aspect, the ending. Kubo finally does battle with the Moon King. Kubo’s backstory has led up to this very battle, this very confrontation and it just kind of ends. Yeah, I get it, this is a kids film and I shouldn’t expect a bloody grueling brawl at the end. But I felt like the film was doing so much right up to that point that I personally was craving a more fulfilling ending.
Despite the film not quenching my thirst for violence, Kubo, and the Two Strings is one of the best films of the year and in my opinion the best-animated film so far in 2016. Younger kids might find this film a bit scary given the imagery but they will definitely be sucked into the story. The voice actors are serviceable in their roles but they deliver a lot of funny dialogue increasing the enjoyability of the film. The film has a very positive message about family and values, something that parents will like and kids will enjoy. The story is very original and well thought out by the screenwriters and the animators. It’s hard not to appreciate the detail and hard work that went into stop motion. Kubo does everything we ask Hollywood to do. Be original, be exciting, take risks, and show us effort. Laika passes our exam with flying colors.