Kubo and the Two Strings
The hero’s journey is one of the oldest and most repeated stories in all of fiction. There’s a reason for that though. A familiar structure can shoulder a lot of the narrative heavy lifting, allowing theme and character to take center stage. Exploring such themes as loss and the value of memories, Kubo and the Two Strings definitely puts some weight on the classic story frame.
Kubo lives a quiet life, caring for his injured mother and making a living performing origami musicals aided by his vaguely defined magical powers as channeled through his music. A demonic family reunion puts and end to this though. Kubo narrowly escape with the aid of an animated monkey charm made by his mother to protect him. After they team up with a cursed amnesiac samurai known only as Beetle, the trio seeks to pick up where Kubo’s father left off in a quest to unite three powerful artifacts that will give him the ability to vanquish his pursuers once and for all.
It’s impossible to tell you about this movie without gushing a bit over it’s visual and sonic delivery. Laika has always done a remarkable job of visual storytelling and with all sorts of Japanese tropes and folklore to borrow from, they give a wonderful backdrop that presents enough variety to help give a grander sense of scope to what under more scrutiny, is a rather condensed film. I’m really hoping there’s a killer director's cut waiting in the wings somewhere.
Loss and perseverance in the face thereof run deep here. Kubo has not had an easy life even before the events of this film complicate it further. Kubo’s mother suffers from an injury that causes her to fade in and out of lucidity. This forces him to deal with losing her repeatedly, and this is in addition to never having known his father. His companions are similarly lost creatures. Beetle’s amnesia has robbed him of any sense of purpose, making him eager to join Kubo’s quest just to have something good by which to define himself. The core message is that loss is inevitable and it is what we carry with us from those losses defines us.
The characters play off of each other well. Monkey’s stoicism is contrasted with Beetle’s more whimsical attitude. I am a bit disappointed by the casting though. Make no mistake, they’re all talented and give at times moving performances. Rooney Mara is downright spooky. This doesn’t detract that a story using Japanese culture lacks any (literal) Japanese voices. The only exceptions (a whopping two of them) are George Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa who are both talented enough to voice leads. It just bugs me a little to hear a samurai voiced by Matthew McConaughey.
This film does feel a bit rushed at times. This can be a good thing for bringing kids though. As far as scary factor; if they can handle the first two Harry Potter films, they’ll most likely be fine. There are some logical inconsistencies, but ost of them I didn’t even really notice though until I sat down to write this review. They don’t detract from the message and certainly won’t kill the viewing experience. All in all, if you like adventure served on a fantastic stop-motion platter, this is a worthy quest to embark on.