By Steven Marowski
This article contains spoilers.
To be quite honest, I have never heard of this movie before I went to the theater. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, especially when I saw a lot of kids with their parents walk in. However, I quickly fell in love with Kubo and the story.
Produced by Laika Entertainment, who also produced The Boxtrolls and Coraline, Kubo and the Two Strings was directed by Travis Knight and is a film that the entire family can enjoy. Featuring Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, George Takei and Art Parkinson, Kubo must find a suit of armor so he can defeat evil spirits from his family’s past. The suit of armor was worn by his late father and is the key to saving himself from the spirits. In the most basic terms, Kubo’s mother betrayed his grandfather and aunts. His mother fell in love with Kubo’s father, the man that his mother, grandfather and aunts were supposed to kill. Because of this, Kubo’s grandfather and aunts live in the heavens as spirits and are trying to get Kubo and his mother to live with them as well.
Kubo is a character that appeals to the masses because of his ability to tell a story. In fact, he’s literally a storyteller in his village, and with his magical shamisen (Japanese form of a lute), he can bring pieces of paper to life while he narrates a story. The pieces of paper can be anything including dragons, sea monsters, snakes or most importantly, a resurrection of who his father was as a warrior.
The uniqueness of the story was what had me instantly hooked; it’s unlike any other movie I’ve seen, in that it has a real-world feel with completely unrealistic events. The pieces of paper fold themselves because of a magical guitar-like instrument? That would never happen in real life, but it happens in the movie, which makes me wish it happened in the real world too. The journey that Kubo goes on and the background knowledge we have on him and his family gives us the feeling that we know Kubo personally. All of the things we see and hear in each scene give the audience the feeling this sort of thing could happen in their own backyard. Kubo is also trying to avenge his father’s death and brings an emotional appeal to the film that everyone can embrace.
Movies are meant to have an emotional appeal, and they’re meant to connect with the audience. I can’t think of another movie I’ve seen that did both of these things to the extent that Kubo and the Two Strings did. Small children put themselves in Kubo’s shoes and they can feel what he’s feeling at that moment. I choked up on more than one occasion because the movie provoked my sympathy for Kubo and his family, and that’s something that’s rare to find in a lot of movies today. For college kids, it’s a combination of the 1990’s animation that we know and love and the maturity that comes with the film that isn’t seen very often in animated movies. It’s almost as if Kubo is the essence of a college student — stressed out almost all the time, but he likes to have fun, even if the stress is getting to him.
This movie came out around the same time as the highly touted Suicide Squad, and I had a chance to see both movies. I’ll put it this way, one movie had a plot, and the other’s was nonexistent. Kubo and the Two Strings had a plot that was extremely easy to follow, but it wasn’t predictable. I wanted to know what was going to happen next but had no idea. There were a few major twists and turns I never saw coming, but the film connected all of the twists and turns with the original conflict, which was Kubo finding the armor.
I mentioned Laika Entertainment earlier because I had never heard of it until this movie hit the theaters, but they’re the same company that produced Coraline and The Boxtrolls. It struck me by surprise because I expected animation that would flow as if I were watching a Disney movie. The animation wasn’t glitchy by any means, but you could tell it was stop-motion, and I think that was one of the things that contributed to the charm of the film. Having said that, I don’t know that this would’ve been as much of a hit if it was a Disney movie. I think the producers and Travis Knight hit the nail on the head with this movie. It was Knight’s debut as a director, and although he worked as an animator on Coraline and a producer for The Boxtrolls, I hope that we see his name in the credits for years to come, whether it’s as a producer, animator or director.
One thing that I look at when I watch a movie is the cast. The voices of every actor and actress matched the personality and body of the animated characters, something that can have a big impact on the viewer’s perceptions of characters. The characters and the voices behind them were orchestrated with exceptional care, and each actor or actress was deliberately chosen for a specific reason.
Soundtracks are a huge part of every movie, and this one is no different. While it didn’t feature any pop or rock hits, I thought the music helped create an equality between the setting and the action, something that many movies can misfire on. It connected each scene and appealed to the viewers emotions perfectly. It helped make the movie what it’s become, a move that both critics and families across America have come to love.
Kubo and the Two Strings is inventive, original and heart-wrenching. On top of that, it’s right around 100 minutes. As something that the whole family can enjoy, it will undoubtedly be a movie that will be on people’s DVD shelves for years to come.
Photo via Laika Entertainment