Kubo and the Two Strings
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A young hero must go on an epic quest to unlock the mystery of his family’s past in Kubo and the Two Strings starring the voice talents of Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey, Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, and Ralph Fiennes. Is this movie from LAIKA as stunning and imaginative as Coraline and ParaNorman, or is stop-motion animation a dead artform?
Every once in awhile a movie leaves me speechless. For those who know me, me not talking is as uncommon as a lunar eclipse. But in my history of 43 years on this planet, there have been just a few movies that penetrate my soul and solidify my passion for film as my favorite artform. Kubo and the Two Strings is one such film.
Kubo and the Two Strings begins with a woman on a small fishing boat in the middle of the ocean. She is in a hurricane of a storm with only a shamisen (three-stringed Japanese instrument) and her infant son. With magical powers she parts the tidal wave with a power chord on her instrument as the it’s about to crash into her. Unfortunately, the wave behind her wrecks her tiny boat and she wakes up with her son washed up on a beach. The woman was fleeing her father who stole her son’s eye. So to protect him, she takes them into hiding. Many years later, the boy named Kubo attends to his mother who is in an almost constant catatonic state, except when she his telling fantastical stories about his father. To make money Kubo uses his mother’s shamisen to magically tell stories to the local village. When Kubo accidentally alerts his grandfather to his location, his aunts come for him. To protect him once again, Kubo’s mother uses the last of her magic to sacrifice herself so he can get away. It’s now up to a monkey sworn to protect him and an insect samurai to help Kubo find the three pieces of a magical armor that once belonged to his father to stop his grandfather.
From the beginning scene to the end credits showcasing Regina Spektor’s beautiful rendition of the classic Beatle’s song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Kubo and the Two Strings is pure poetry to the eyes. I cannot express in enough words how gorgeous the movie is, not just visually, but spiritually as well. The movie takes you on an emotional journey of imagination and creativity that no other movie this year has done. It reminded me a lot of Guillermo del Toro’s love of Mexican culture in his movies Book of Life and Pan’s Labyrinth or the fantastical world of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. With its Asian influence, the movie felt like not only an epic tale of a young hero, but a love letter to Japanese culture. If I can go back for a second and talk about the song selection of the end credits, hearing the lyrics as the credits rolled made me tear up as the iconic George Harrison song beautifully encapsulated the heart of the movie. It was as if the filmmakers fell in love with the song and created a movie around it.
Not too many studios do stop-motion animation anymore as the trend is to use computers to do everything. Thank god LAIKA still wants to keep this beautiful artform around so audiences can be amazed at the craftsmanship. Everything in the movie is such a delight to watch. The characters all have a certain charm about them. The expressions of these mere puppets really emulate ones only real humans can make. After awhile, you forget you’re looking at little models being manipulated by artists. The miniature sets all look grand in scale and the landscapes are vast. When you watch Kubo and the Two Strings, you can’t believe this was done on little sets. There are so many things I want to talk to you about as this review will only scratch the surface of the film’s magic, but I want you to discover the wonderment for yourself.
As a huge gamer, one compliment I give to a lot of movies that I really like are that they feel like a video game. Kubo and the Two Strings feels like a movie of all the cool cutscenes from a quest game. Kubo has to travel to exotic locations to find the three pieces of armor, but along the way there are boss battles with his two aunts and other fantastical creatures which all lead up to the mother of all boss battles. But I say that the film feels like a video game, because let’s face it, most amazing games now even have a cinematic feel to them. What I like as a gamer and a huge movie geek is that both worlds seem to be positively influencing each other. Kubo and the Two Strings does an amazing job, just like a game, with transitioning back and forth between character development, exploration, and action scenes.
Art Parkinson voices the hero Kubo along with Charlize Theron as Monkey and Matthew McConaughey as Beetle. The trio was amazing and the actors really brought life to the characters. I really liked how their personalities equally complimented and clashed with each other to give them a fantastic dynamic. Rooney Mara (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) is the voice of both of Kubo’s aunts. I really loved the Sisters. They were ultra scary and devilishly wicked. I loved their outfits, especially their masks which felt ripped straight from a Hayao Miyazaki film. Voldemort himself Ralph Fiennes is the voice of Kubo’s grandfather. His voice is both haunting and seductive. Overall the voice acting was really well done, but even with the attached star power, this isn’t a movie to go see because the actors who do the voices, because it’s not the actors who are the highlight, it’s the story and characters. In all honesty, I would have actually preferred a Japanese cast with subtitles to add even more authenticity to the film, but then again I hate reading. How ironic.
Kubo and the Two Strings is movie magic in its utmost form. Not only is the artistry and craftsmanship parallel to none, but from a cinema perspective it’s an amazingly well shot film. The camera angles and wide shots are glorious and the cinematography and editing is fantastic. Some live-action movies need to watch this movie and take notes. For people complaining about the lack of originality coming out of Hollywood, this is a movie that needs to be supported. I’m going to predict it now, but Kubo and the Two Strings should not only get an Oscar nomination for animated feature film, but should also win as well. In this year, or even the past few years for that matter, nothing is even close to this sheer levels of originality and creativity that this movie has. In the most simplest of terms, Kubo in the Two Strings is a masterpiece.
Kubo and the Two Strings is probably one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Everything in the movie from the models to the sets, to the landscapes is visually gorgeous, especially in 3D. The characters are memorable and lovable. And the story is thrilling, romantic, sad, and beyond epic. Animation studio LAIKA has created a masterpiece that transcends animation. The movie is so good, you forget that the characters are little puppets, but rather real beings with emotions and personality. If you love movies like Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls or epic Asian fantasies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero, then Kubo and the Two Strings is a movie you absolutely do not want to miss.