With some of the most beautiful animations committed to film, Kubo and the Two Strings is a movie that prides itself on story and delivers on its promise
“If you blink, do it now.” Some movies just remind you how much you love movies. These are the movies that transport you to a different world, dazzle you with gorgeous filmmaking, and tell a story that you lose yourself in. I think Kubo and the Two Strings more than any movie this year has done that.
One of the first things you learn about when you study storytelling is the hero’s journey. It follows one person’s journey from the known to the unknown and the transformative growth that it comes with. Star Wars is probably the most high-profile example of the narrative structure. The reason it works is because the hero has to earn his or her ending. By going through challenges, defeats, and hard-fought lessons, they have to learn about themselves in the context of their story and the story of those around him or her.
Kubo is a perfect representation of the hero’s tale. The titular Kubo is a young boy whose life has been shrouded in darkness. The movie opens with his mother’s harrowing escape by boat through vicious waves to save an infant Kubo. Her father, the Moon King, plucked out Kubo’s eye in an effort to make him blind to humanity. Years later, the Moon King and his twin daughters continue to seek out Kubo to steal his other eye. After staying out after dark, Kubo is attacked by his twin aunts. His Mother saves him with the last of her magic and sends him on a quest with a monkey — voiced by Charlize Theron in a phenomenal performance — as his protector.
His mission is to find the three pieces of armor that will protect him from his Grandfather – the sword unbreakable, the armor impenetrable, and the helmet invulnerable. Along the way, they find a samurai who has been cursed and turned into a beetle named Beetle who was a student of Kubo’s father. The trio trek through dangerous landscapes and battle many foes. However, the real story is revealed throughout the movie, which ties up to an emotional gut-punch in the end.
At the center of the entire movie is some of the most dazzling animation I have ever seen. Stop-motion is a genre that I often forget to appreciate because its look could be disconcerting. But Kubo introduces beautiful Japanese inspired art that literally comes to life before your eyes. In particular, the animation of origami figures that fold themselves at Kubo’s will is most impressive. The animators use gorgeous, bold colors to paint vivid landscapes and portraits throughout the journey with painstaking detail that is marvelous.
Kubo and the Two Strings bravely trusts its audience, adults and kids alike, with its at times dark tale. Sometimes the plot comes to points where you forget that this is a movie marketed towards children. However, it includes flashes of humor — particularly from Beetle (voiced wonderfully by Matthew McConaughey) — that are pitch-perfect in their delivery and effect.
Laika has proved itself as an animation studio to watch with three hits in a row. With Kubo and the Two Strings, it proves that it’s a top animation studio. From the power of memory to strength in the face of loss, Kubo deals with some heavy themes for a kids movie. However, it balances it out with such beauty, a strong story, and surprising flashes of humor that make it one of the strongest animated movies of the year.