Kubo and the Two Strings full movie review - A masterful stop-motion film for kids and adults alike
Okay, here's the problem with writing about Kubo and the Two Strings: a lot ? and I do mean A LOT ? of what I need to point out might or might not slip me to spoiler territory.
Sucks, I know, but not doing so would not give this movie justice. So what I'm about to do is explain the story, explain the surface level stuff, and leave the deeper material later on. Deal?
In either case, yes, you've heard it right; Kubo and the Two Strings is a masterpiece. After almost a decade of major studios like DreamWorks, Disney, and Illumination trotting out safe, eye-appealing kid's movies, the small Claymation studio Laika returns once again with yet another masterwork. It's a film that exceeds more than just their use of performances and impressive visual style with their usual somber aesthetic and shockingly relatable fables. This time, they finally step out of their usual Gothic horror design and focus more on a Miyazaki- inspired Eastern palette. The result might finally replace their previous film ParaNorman as their definitive peak of their abilities, and probably be the best stop-motion movie ever made since Nightmare Before Christmas.
Borrowing wholesale from Asian folklore, the story takes place in Ancient Japan where a one-eyed child by the name Kubo lives in a desolate mountain with his grief-stricken mother. During his downtime, he travels to a nearby village to perform origami tricks with his magic guitar (which is so amazing you won't even question it) , which he uses to tell an ancient story about his father - a legendary samurai - who was the first to square up against the Moon King with the aid of three pieces of golden armor (sword, helmet, and breastplate) . But after disobeying his mother for not staying home after dark, he soon encounters the Evil Sister who are in cahoots with the Moon King and decides to mess things up in the village and take Kubo away in the process. The mother, reawaken from her grief, defends Kubo with her last of her powers in an attempt to fend off her foes. In the aftermath, Kubo now must find the three pieces and make things right while fending off the Moon King and his cohorts. Along the journey, he encounters a stern, assertive Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a brave but dense warrior Beetle (Matthew McConaughey).
So, no guesses for which this story will wrap up in the end, or even how the inevitable plot twist will turn up. However, like Laika always promises, there's real depth and a fresh new take on this material amongst their visual flair.
SPOILERS!!! You see, the whole film is pretty much a parable for a broken/dysfunctional family scenario integrated into an epic fetch quest storyline. Kubo's mother is scarred by the Moon King who happens to be Kubo's grumpy grandfather (Ralph Fiennes). When she wouldn't comply to join his world ? the world free of mortal consequence and pain ? he punishes her by killing her mate and damaging Kubo's left eye. So really, the whole clichéd epic story where the hero fights a villain to save the kingdom actually has some resonance because they twisted it into a psychological trial of fixing a broken family. It's even right down to having the two companions (You read the spoiler warning!!) be the reincarnated versions of Kubo's parents guiding Kubo to find the right tools to fend off old Grandpas' evildoings and bring him away from his evil. It's the type of story that can also relate to both young kids and adults alike, which is a type of feat we seldom see these days.
Now granted, the twist with Beetle and Monkey seems fairly obvious right from the get-go, with them possessing typical mother-and-father traits. However, it seems like it's the point like it almost comes with the supply of Kubo engaging in a trial for finding his courage and family connection up until the big boss fight.
Even if any young mind wouldn't capture all the subtext, they're probably too busy gushing over the widely impressive stop-motion animation. Even for a guy who never really get all impressed with stop- motion, I was in awe with what Laika has done here. With subtle feats like face details and clothing/hair physics to grand moments like the varied and large-scale boss fights, I'm glad this type of animation came quite a long way. What also amazes me lies in the remarkably detailed Eastern setting bursting with color and homage. For an animation company coming from the origins of the classic Harryhausen days, it's simply astonishing for how far their hard work exceeds this medium.
The performances are too good to dismiss. Mathew McConaughey shows his usual charming swagger in Beetle while also pulling off his shortsighted aspects. Charlize Theron once again gives her best as a stern Monkey. Ralph Fiennes almost disappears in his role as the intimidating yet entirely nuanced villain the Moon King. Rooney Mara also impresses as the Sinister Twins, who mostly sounds reminiscent of the Twins from The Shining. The standout, though, is Game of Thrones own Art Parkinson utilizes impressive range as Kubo, invoking both the vulnerable and the courageous aspects of his character.
By now, you probably guessed that this is my new favorite movie. There's virtually nothing hampering the movie nor any one element overwhelming another. As a kids film, it's pretty much perfect. As a warm diversion for the adults, it still works considerably. The type of film that relates to kids without talking down to them. It's the type of deceptively simple storytelling that captures adult themes without falling gratuitous territory. It's the type of film that contains huge respect for Eastern folklore without wearing out its welcome. Filled with character dynamics and emotion, this is an instant classic and you need to see it!
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