Sometimes a movie does something new, using something old, and reminds you why you love the format so damn much. That’s what this weeks’ movie review is all about, duality, memories and recognizing the importance of story.
It’s kind of baffling that I would get so excited about a good story, but it really is integral in any art form.
Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
Cast: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei
Director: Travis Knight
released on blu-ray November 22, 2016
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, Audience Score 87%
The Guardian: *****/*****
Travis Knight is an American animator, producer and known for his work as lead animator for Laika Entertainment. And now he is known for directing Kubo and the Two Strings, which is his directorial debut.
Since 2005, Knight has been essential to the stop motion animation of the Laika team, wearing several hats and contributing to both CGI and stop-motion animation for its productions. Namely feature length films such as Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls. He also serves as a member of Laika’s board and was recently nominated for Best Animated Feature on his work for The Boxtrolls.
But what do I think, you ask? Well, this is an amazing film dear readers. Brilliantly animated, with excellent voice acting, and an original story.
Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a one-eyed boy who lives with his sick mother, Sariatu (Charlize Theron), in a cave atop a mountain. He tells stories to the local villagers by magically invigorating origami through his three string shamisen. His favourite story is about a warrior named Hanzo who goes on a quest to fight the Moon King. Kubo must head home before sunset each day or her Sisters (Rooney Mara) and his grandfather the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) will come for his remaining eye.
One day, Kubo attempts to communicate with his father, the deceased Hanzo… Nothing happens and he becomes angry, staying out past sunset. Sariatu’s Sisters arrive and attack Kubo, but his mother defends him, and impassions him to find Hanzo’s armour. When Kubo awakens the next day he learns that his little wooden monkey charm has been given life by his mother’s magic. Monkey tells him that his mother is dead and that he needs to move to survive. One of Kubo’s origami has come to life in the form of a little Hanzo, and during the quest they find an amnesiac named Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a cursed samurai apprentice of Hanzo’s that has taken the form of a beetle. He offers his services to Hanzo’s son.
The first leg of the quest has the three battling a giant skeleton for the sword unbreakable. Next, Kubo uses magic to create a boat of leaves and the expedition sails across Long Lake for the breastplate impenetrable. Beetle and Kubo dive in to retrieve the breastplate. One of the Sisters attacks and Monkey manages to defeat her, but is badly wounded in the process. Kubo realizes Monkey is his mother reincarnated.
Monkey reveals that originally she and her sisters were meant to kill Hanzo, but she fell in love with him, which incensed her family. Kubo dreams and is greeted by Raiden, a blind old man who shows him the location of the helmet invulnerable, the final piece of armor. They head to his father’s damaged fortress, but are ambushed by the remaining Sister, she reveals Beetle is Hanzo, whom the cursed. Beetle is killed, and Monkey sacrifices herself. Two strings of the shamisen are broken in the process Kubo learns his village’s bell is the helmet, breaking the last string and flying back home.
He takes the helmet, but Raiden appears, now the Moon King. He wants Kubo to become blind and immortal like him. Kubo refuses and fights the Moon King, but loses badly. Shedding the armor and re-stringing his shamisen, Kubo uses its magic to recruit the spirits of the deceased villagers, proving memories are more powerful. The spirits shield him engulf Raiden in their magic. The Moon King is defeated, becomes human, and has no memories of his past. The remaining villagers and Kubo create a positive new identity for him. Kubo then communes with his parents spirits and sets their lanterns afloat.
Pros: The themes of spirit, memories, and death are strong, delivered with great emotional care. The animation slowly pulls you into this story, and once you are there it’s impossible not to appreciate the depth of characterization and inspiring message.
Cons: If you like your narrative delivered to you in direct terms, quickly establishing roles and character arcs, this film will not serve it up to you on a silver platter.
Runtime: 1 hour 41 minutes
Points of Interest: The boat sequence took 19 months to shoot, and the entire film consists of at least 145.000 photographs turned into a stop-motion film. The two strings of the film’s title is a theme of duality featured throughout: Mother and father. Night and day. Life and death. Creativity and destruction.
It’s refreshing to see an animated family film that features a prominent and mystical quality to it. A film that prefers to be driven by narrative first and then demand for visual quality, and as a consequence achieve something rare in cinema. An engaging story that pretty much any age group could enjoy thoroughly, but you have to be prepared to listen to it.
Let’s consider something for a second. Have you ever seen origami used so effectively in an animation that is about stories within stories? Kubo is a storyteller that uses song, performance and paper to make stories. That he and his cast of characters are made of the same materials is a point not to be trivialized, these forms can be understand by any age group or culture for that matter. And it makes the use of magic seem that much more significant. I loved this movie, and I hope you take the time to go see it for yourself creative cuties. I’m out of theories for now, but rest assured, I’ll be back tomorrow with something about what’s coming.