If you must blink, do it now.
The 2016 summer movie season killed me. I was beaten to a senseless pulp by X-Men: Apocalypse and Now You See Me 2, and when Star Trek Beyond tried to resuscitate me, Suicide Squad bashed my head in. As this horrid season came to a close, and my soul left my twitching body, something happened. A movie of unparalleled beauty and artistry gave me life once more. I was revived by the humanity that the medium of film is able to visually realize.
I was saved by Kubo and the Two Strings.
As a baby, one of Kubo’s eyes is stolen by his grandfather, the Moon King. Now a young boy, Kubo spends his days caring for this ill mother and entertaining his village with stories told through a magic shamisen. Eventually, Kubo’s grandfather pursues the boy, seeking his other eye. Kubo, along with the help from a warrior monkey and beetle, must recover three items of great power to defeat his grandfather, and be reunited with his family.
Kubo and the Two Strings, the fourth film from stop-motion animation studio Laika, is masterful. It expertly combines stunning animation with an effective narrative to create an experience that redeems a murderous summer.
Obviously what is so striking about this film is its animation. Stop-motion is a painstaking and time-intensive art form, and every frame of Kubo exudes a tangible realness. From the smallest detail like Kubo’s flowing hair, to large snowy landscapes or sweeping oceans, the level of artistry this film showcases is staggering. You’ll be stunned by the fluidity of complex fight sequences, and you’ll be left to wonder how Laika created effects like the origami sequences. And when you do see how the studio created a certain set piece, shown as behind the scenes footage for the mid-credit scene, your jaw will drop. This movie is unfathomably gorgeous, and it’s because of the dedication and hard work that shines through the brilliant animation.
Character and story-wise, Kubo is intelligent and purposeful. Art Parkinson (Rickon Stark from Game of Thrones) is great as Kubo, but the supporting cast voice talents steal the movie. Charlize Theron as Monkey is strong, stoic, and surprisingly hilarious. Matthew McConaughey’s performance as Beetle is restrained but still brash and memorable. The villainous Sisters (played by Rooney Mara) are terrifyingly awesome, and I could probably send the rest of the review just on them.
Kubo and the Two Strings is very much so a quest narrative. The hero must find three magical objects to defeat a great evil and save the day. It’s way too easy to dismiss the film’s story as simple, and as something we’ve all seen before. The thing is, we have all seen this before, and that’s the point (in many ways, this film is just as subversive as The Lego Movie). Kubo intelligently uses a clear and understandable narrative to not only highlight its stunning visuals, but also to call attention to themes animated films rarely and completely dive into. Kubo is about death. It’s about realizing that stories end, and understanding that life moves on. Despite being set in a fantasy world, Kubo doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities we will all face. The film asks us to think about mortality, our legacy, and who we care most about.
There really isn’t much to complain about with Kubo. A minor gripe is the film’s pacing toward the end of the second act. The movie speeds through a pretty big reveal, and launches into the climax sooner than expected. Again this really isn’t too big of a problem though, as the rest of the film is great about balancing slow emotional scenes with outstanding action sequences. Shout out to one incredible fight scene on a boat between Monkey and one of the Sisters.
The 2016 summer movie season killed me. Three months worth of disappointing films left me to rot in a ditch, but then Kubo came along and brought me back. Rarely do we get a summer film that showcases unparalleled animation, and even rarer is one such as Kubo, which combines this artistry with thoughtful and emotional storytelling. Kubo and the Two Strings is a beautiful film about death, but somehow, it brings life.
FINAL SCORE: 5/5