Why You Should Be Watching ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’
So “Kubo and the Two Strings” has been out for a few weeks now… and very sadly is bombing hard.
It’s always a shame to see a film you like fail, but it’s a double shame when the film is REALLY REALLY GOOD! I don’t want to oversell it, but it’s true. In fact, I decided to forgo a typical review of this film because I feel like this would do more good. Now if you haven’t heard anything about this film, take a look at the trailer if you haven’t already.
Now if you can watch that trailer and NOT go “Oh I need to see this” then well I really don’t know what to make of you and sadly it seems a lot of people seemed to have that reaction. Why? I can’t even imagine, but I really hope something can change and word of mouth spreads quickly. We’ve had some films not do as well as some thought they should have this year. You almost certainly have something in mind and chances are one of those films you’re thinking of had a very polarizing reaction from critics and audiences. In some cases they also had some piss poor marketing, but that’s neither here nor there. However, “Kubo” has gotten stellar reviews across the board from the critics and the smaller number of theatre goers who did see it. So if those reasons don’t convince you or you want to know why so many are rating this so highly here are some reasons you should be watching this in theaters. I’ll do my best to keep this spoiler free.
1.) It is an original story
“Hollywood never does anything original, it’s all remakes and adaptations” we constantly complain. Well this is an original story, the basic plot is about a young boy (Kubo) in Japan who lives alone with his mother. Each day he goes to the nearby town to tell stories for money. His mother who seems to be growing more and more distance always warns the boy not to be outside at night or else his grandfather the Moon King will try to get him and take his other eye. Kubo accidentally stays out one night while trying to take part in a ceremony to talk with his deceased father’s soul. Almost immediately his ghostly aunts attack to try to bring him to his grandfather. In the fight Kubo’s mother and the town are destroyed, using the last of her magic she transports Kubo far away and brings to life a monkey charm to protect him. From there they must work together (along the way teaming up with a lost beetle samurai) to find the magic armor of Kubo’s father to protect him. Now you may be tempted to say “hey that’s a pretty basic sounding plot” and it is, but it truly is the way it’s told. It is an action film, but it is also a character driven film. Like the old saying goes it’s not what a movie is about it’s HOW it is about it. Honestly it’s more something you’ll notice afterwards because the quality of the storytelling while you’re watching makes you forget. It balances the humor with real seriousness and never feels like either detracts from the other. While some of its twists can be figured out by veteran viewers it is still a kids film and has more going for it.
2.) It is an artistic/technical triumph
I’ve mentioned many times before that I LOVE stop-motion animation. Well Laika (the film’s studio) is most certainly the Studio Ghibli of stop-motion. I realize a phrase like that is often tossed around and may come off as trite, but it is how I really feel in terms of story and visual quality. Let me put it this way every time this studio releases a film (“Coraline”, “ParaNorman”, and “Boxtrolls”) it becomes the gold standard for stop-motion animation. It’s amazing how they can top themselves over and over. Like their other films they utilize CGI throughout the film (mostly to extend the sets) but it’s a perfect blend so it never feels out of place. It’s almost “Akira” levels of detailed in the smoothness of the movement, it looks as though no corners were cut whatsoever. They also put to rest the idea that an epic action film can’t be done in stop-motion as the action scenes are some of the best of any animated film period. Like the film in general there are a number of things that certainly take inspiration from other sources, but they put their own spin on. The showstopping moment being when they must find the Sword Unbreakable which is guarded by a giant skeleton. Now they actually made a full sized giant skeleton to animate and even during the credits show you how they did it. It’s that kind of dedication I admire. The voice acting is all on point from everyone, from the young actor playing Kubo to all the minor characters. Matthew McConaughey may feel a little out of place, but as his character is under a curse my head cannon is that is strong country accent is part of that. The stand out being Charlize Theron as Monkey. She expertly conveys all of her character’s emotions and the ones she is hiding that you don’t realize she is until later. They’re all so good that even though I wanted to see the quest play out I would have been satisfied to see them hanging out and just living life if that’s what the film decided it wanted to do. It’s a little disappointing that for a story set in Japan that all of the actual Japanese actors in the cast play minor roles, but I can’t say any of the other actors don’t bring their A-game. Lastly, the score by Dario Marianelli is fantastic and the soundtrack will be a must buy. I haven’t seen much from him but going off this film and how long his list of credits, he is definitely a pro.
3.) It commits 100%
I wrote about this in my “ParaNorman” review, but it holds true here as well. For a kid’s film this movie does things many adult films wouldn’t. Now to get fully into it would require spoilers so I’ll do my best to be vague. Like with “ParaNorman” it ends its conflict differently than you’re expecting and it connects to the overall theme. There’s nothing wrong with having an action scene to end a story, but it’s always nice to see a film where what they preach throughout the first 2 3rds of the film is what they practice in the last 3rd. I was also fully expecting them to find a way out of what they did to give us a typical happy ending. While the ending is happy it’s done in a way that honors its message and I applaud them for that. The film is about the power of storytelling and memories and you can tell they have a passion for this. Some adults may feel the ending may go over the kid’s heads, but I think it’ll actually be better for them as they watch it again and again growing up. The film doesn’t hold their hands, but it also respects them which I feel is more important.
Let me make this promise, if you don’t go out and see this film while you still can when you do eventually see it on video or whatever streaming service you use you will regret it. Your first thought will be “why did I not go see this when I had the chance?!” Trust me.