Mesmerizing Beauty: Our Review of ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’

Posted in Movies by - August 19, 2016
Mesmerizing Beauty: Our Review of ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’

Our narrator issues a challenge as a mysterious adventure starts: pay close attention lest our hero fails in his quest without your support. Yet in this case, our hero knows not of his past, his motive, or his goals.

He is Kubo, a young boy with literal and figurative magical powers that are beyond him. He tends to his ailing mother in a seaside cave outside a Japanese village where he entertains engrossed crowds. Mother and son protect each other – she endures a storm on the ocean to get Kubo to safety –  though Kubo knows not why. He’s told his grandfather and his aunts had conspired against Kubo’s father, killing him and then turning their attention to the Kubo, offspring of his love.

Still, this plucky devoted youngster (voiced by Art Parkinson), with a spring in his step and a patch over his eye (an eye that was taken from him) plays his mystical instrument while being a little too reckless with his mother’s warnings.

This mesmerizing and staggeringly beautiful stop-motion animation film from the continuously brilliant Laika studio (Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls), follows Kubo on a powerful journey that begins when he stays out after sunset and realizes his mother’s words were not empty.

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A pair of witches beset Kubo, a chase ensues, a town is destroyed, and in a swarm of magical chaos, Kubo is saved and whisked off to a snowy land. And he’s not alone.

With charm and wonder, our titular hero is set on a quest for mystical armaments used to slay forces of evil. It’s at once incredibly simple and giddily exciting. It’s made all the more enjoyable, as Kubo traverses snowy mountains, an eerie lake, and a dangerous cavern, that he’s joined by a sage protector and a loyal brute. They are in turn, Monkey and Beetle, the former an anthropomorphized charm (voice by Charlize Theron) and the other a cursed warrior with no memory (Matthew McConaughey). Both impressive actors bring humanity and humility to their characters, both of him value Kubo for different reasons, and both with different ideas of how he should be treated.

The threat is to Kubo, yet an impressive first act makes the viewer feel the weight of the world on his shoulders, we rise and fall with his every move. Notions of duty are later supplanted by love and family, as the grand quest of Kubo turns inward and intimate. As a result though, the spectacles during the journey, including a wildly riveting battle between Monkey and a witch atop a sinking ship in the middle of a tempest, are more compelling than an ending that moves towards something more meaningful and quieter.

Which is not to say it’s disappointing, but Kubo is a compelling storyteller, and so are director Travis Knight and screenwriters Chris Butler and Marc Haimes, and so we’ve raised lofty expectations through this immensely pleasurable and indeed emotional ride.

I suppose though, a symbolic ending is fitting and works well. While Kubo entertains crowds with his magic, he has garnered a reputation for never finishing his tall tales, ducking out before the sun sets but also tacitly acknowledging he doesn’t quite know how the journey ends.

The finale here may or may not be surprising, depending on whether you’re trying to catch the movie or simply letting it wash over you, but while it forgoes massive chaos and anarchy like some bigger summer films look for, it goes with speeches, meaning, and determination. Well, and some chaos. Dragons tend to cause that.

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Anthony is a lover of a good story in any form, on any subject. Tirelessly navigating filmdom, he is equal parts an unbridled idealist and stubborn curmudgeon, trying to strike a balance between head and heart when it comes to pop culture. He pens stories about television, music, the environment, lifestyles, and all things noteworthy and peculiar.