A young boy loses his father. A mother does everything to protect him. He wants to get out from under her wing and understand who his Dad really was. Oh yea, and lots and lots of magic.
Kubo and the Two Strings is far from a paint by numbers animated coming of age tale. Sure, it has the hallmarks, especially the ‘kid suffers a tragic loss’ trope that kicks things off, but this film is really a study on how we deal with age and death. It’s refreshing because it doesn’t focus on religion, but doesn’t dismiss it either, I thought it left a lot of breathing room for the viewer to appreciate the message and still see it through the lens of our own world view on these matters. But Kubo must be watched with an appreciation for themes and metaphors, because if you try to take this film to literally, you won’t stop asking ‘what’s going on’ long enough to get the point.
The animation is quite good and I guess more importantly its unique. Something that makes this a contender for best animated film is it s unique style and use of visual style to impart important plot themes and beats that are not entirely clear in the dialog alone. The voice acting it solid and each character gets their own appropriate space to develop, especially of course Kubo.
The weakest part of the film is the villan, referred to as the Moon King and also its explained early on that he is Kubo’s Grandfather. We don’t learn anything about him, or even see him, until the very very end. The reveal is not something worth the wait, he is just another character on the screen. If a superhero is only as good as his villian, then this is not a good match, however it doesn’t drag the film down. The story stays with Kubo all the way and how he deals with and reacts to the challenges and losses in his live, and the final confrontation with the Moon King plays as just another challenge, some some ultimate battle that the movie has been building to (although it does tie up the story and its title cleanly).
This is not a big movie, it actually feels like a very personal and intimate story. The theme and metaphor point I made above is key, because there are times when you will be asking your self whether or not what you are watching is actually happening, is a dream sequence, or is some kind of out of body experience, but either way you know your are tightly connected to the plight of the lead. If you have ever lost a loved one, and struggled with understanding the ‘why’ behind that loss, this movie will resonate with you and probably leave you with a tear on your cheek.
I give Kubo and the Two Strings a B. It was good, very good, but a few times I felt it lost the thread and for a story this personal and intimate, those couple of moments were important. It is a visually beautiful, unique, and creative story that is well worth your time if you like animated movies.