In the epic fantasy, scruffy, kindhearted Kubo ekes out a humble living while devotedly caring for his mother in their sleepy shoreside village. It is a quiet existence – until a spirit from the past catches up with him to enforce an age-old vendetta. Suddenly on the run from gods and monsters, Kubo’s chance for survival rests on finding the magical suit of armor once worn by his fallen father, the greatest samurai the world has ever known. Summoning courage, Kubo embarks on a thrilling odyssey as he faces his family’s history, navigates the elements, and bravely fights for the earth and the stars.
2016 was a great year for animation, and Kubo an the Two Strings was one of the greatest. What sets it apart from the rest of the pack (Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets, Finding Dory) is its great sense of purpose and maturity. Kubo knows what story it wants to tell and never allows its plot to become convoluted by needless subplots, rather each line of dialogue and every piece of imagery is included for a reason.
As Kubo himself will tell you in an almost metafictional way:
If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see and hear, no matter how unusual it may seem. And please be warned, if you fidget, if you look away, if you forget any part of what I tell you, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish.
It’s a film that deserves to be watched twice – the first time to be awed by the stunning animation and shocked by the twists and turns of the plot, and the second to pay close attention to all the details that so carefully build up to the film’s conclusion. Because if you blink, you’ll surely miss something.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a lovely, if not a bit sad, magical tale that feels both wondrously new and familiar at the same time. Drawing on Japanese Samurai mythology and standard quest tropes (the rule of three, the chosen one) and blending it with highly imaginative elements like musical magic, and living origami creations gives Kubo a wonderful dream-like quality.
Kubo, while funny and lighthearted at times, is overall mature in tone and subject matter. Dark, thoughtful and serious, Kubo examines grief, loneliness, death, family, and fate. It’s about choosing one’s own path in life and not the one that others want you to take, about where our stories start and begin, about what it means to be a hero. The stakes are high, the monsters dangerous and scary. It’s not a movie for young children who will likely find it too scary; but one for older children and adults alike to enjoy and contemplate.
The movement in Kubo is so fluid and the character design so detailed it makes stop-motion animation look easy. The result is an incredibly compelling world and wonderfully believable characters. It’s no surprise that Kubo just became the first animated film to earn a Costume Design Guild nomination.
The characters are excellent too, from the hardworking, optimistic Kubo, to the tough, focused Monkey, to the brave and funny Beetle. The evil twin aunts are wonderfully ominous and creepy, and the interactions between the characters are perfectly done, with the silence and expressions carrying equal weight to words.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a brilliant story, backed up by equally brilliant screenwriting and animation. It’s heartfelt, exciting, and inspiring; a truly great movie. Highly recommended.