- Movie Rating -

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

| August 12, 2016

The fortress of feature animation grows stronger and yet weaker at the same time.  For every great film like Zootopia and Finding Dory there are at least five that are made with the most desiccated of box office intention; The Angry Bird Movie, Ice Age: Collision Course, The Land Before Time XIV, Norm of the North, Ratchet and Clank and Rock Dog.  Fortunately, off in the corner is the small but powerful Laika, which has been producing some very good work, all of it acclaimed, all of it marked with nominations at the Academy Awards.  Their first three films have this distinction, Coraline, The Boxtrolls and ParaNorman and added to this is the superb Kubo and the Two Strings.

Set in sort-of ancient Japan, Kubo is not merely a blast of visual invention but also a reminder of a time when myths and legends aimed at children were darker, had weird corners and featured characters who experience horror and death, parental and otherwise.  The hero is Kubo whose daily routine is a trip to the middle of town where he can earn spare change by telling stories using origami figures while playing his trusty shamisen.

What cannot be known to the townsfolk is the trouble that awaits him back home.  He lives in a cave with his mother who experiences memory problems.  They are both physically scarred by something and there is no secret that the reason for the cave is that they are hiding out.  The reason for this and the reason that Kubo sports an eyepatch make up the darker corners of this tale.  Kubo’s only responsibility is to be home before dark lest his sisters come to collect his other eye.  Did I mention that this was a dark story?

You can see where this is going.  Kubo does stay out late one night and the sisters arrive – strange floating witches with bone white faces and specter-like shrouds.  The havoc created by the sisters makes Kubo a marked man, so he much venture out and find a magical suit of armor to protect himself.  Along the way he learns the truth about his mother, his father and why he’s being pursued.

It sounds simplistic, but actually the story is small enough that we can enjoy the visual palette even more.  If you’re familiar at all with Laika’s other films then the animation will not come as a surprise.  It’s not the perfectly toned texture of a Pixar movie.  The characters are angular and they have features that look more like something one might see in a storybook.  This is a wonderful film.  It’s original, it’s exciting, it’s fun.  The story beats might seem familiar but the presentation feels original and new.  And for the animated market right now, that’s a big relief.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2016) View IMDB Filed in: Animated