Kubo and the Two Strings: The Magic of Storytelling

Movie Review - Kubo and the Two Strings

Jamie D.

In an age of CGI movies from animation giants such as Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks, it is often impossible to find traditionally animated movies that are available in theaters. With the ever growing advancements in 3D technology, this medium of storytelling has overshadowed its predecessors in the movie industry. With hungry audiences searching for another CGI animated movie, it is often a treat when a film goes against the norm.

 

This couldn’t be more the case with Laika’s latest film, Kubo and the Two Strings. Recently released on August 19th, the film is permeated with a complex blend of Japanese sensitivities along with the technical, impressive stop-motion animation that fills the course of the movie. Directed by President and CEO Travis Knight, Kubo follows its other predecessors such as Coraline (2009), Paranorman (2012), and the Boxtrolls (2014) in a line of finely animated films. With Kubo remaining as one of the only stop-motion films in the current box office, it is truly a testament to Laika Studio’s perseverance and creativity.

 

Set in wondrous, Edo-era Japan, Kubo (Art Parkinson) the main character, is a young boy living a quiet life with his sick mother. With the music from his magical instrument, a shamisen, Kubo uses origami to create his story. His peaceful life is destroyed when he summons a dark figure from his past. With the quest to obtain the three legendary pieces of armor, he fights against the evil Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and his two aunts (Rooney Mara).

 

The story is resonant of many typical adventure stories, but it never seems as though that is its only focus. Rather, that seems to limit Kubo with its characterizations. The sarcastic Monkey (Charlize Theron) and comedic Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) are rather shallow at best, displaying certain moments of clarity and poignancy before it is replaced with blatant exposition to push the story. And that is a shame, because the animation in Kubo is absolutely stunning, with smooth transitions and a real sense of magic that is present in each scene. The scenes in which the animation seems to shine is without any dialogue – just the expressions on the characters’ faces. This is the beauty of Kubo, the strange mixture between Western-style movie making and the fluid concepts of Japanese spiritualism. At times, the character interactions just seem to ignore this and focus on slapstick, lackluster comedy.

 

The dramatic scenes in Kubo is also a strong highlight throughout the film. Kubo’s interactions with his ailing mother seem to allude to Laika’s constant theme of darkness and horror presented throughout its films. With obvious references to mental illness, it transcends the typical child-like stereotype of animation films lacking substance. Kubo explores loss and despair, and how life is often flawed, just like the broken scar on his mother’s face.

 

A resonant quote in this film is “If you must blink, do it now,” and that could not be more accurate when it comes to this animation. The amount of care and representation that the studio placed in each character model, each moment of scenery, and each aspect of Japanese culture is clearly shown in every shot in the film. Kubo’s production took five years, and the amount of work invested is in every minuscule detail of the film, from the clothing patterns to the shifting of fur in the wind. The Japanese concepts of ukiyo-e (“pictures of the moving world”) and the art of Edo period is the focal point throughout the story, and introduces this culture to the Western audience. These flaws of characterization can mostly be ignored with the engaging spectacle that Laika presents – the marriage of science and art. Travis Knight has constructed a fascinating movie that integrates classic story themes with spellbinding animation. All in all, Kubo is a film deserving of attention by critics and audiences alike.

 

KUBO

 

Released: August 19th

 

Rated: PG for thematic elements, scary images, action, and peril.
Runtime: 1 hour, 41 minutes