Kubo and the Two Strings – The must-see summer animated feature By Kaely Monahan
Kubo and the Two Strings is an action-packed, epic adventure that will soar into the realm of “classic.” Produced by the same studio that brought us Coraline, this animated film proves that stop-animation not only has a place in cinema, but it can hold its own against glossy computer animation.
The story is set in medieval Japan. Kubo and his bother live outside a village in a cliff-cave overlooking the sea. The boy is inventive and full of zeal, as is cleverly shown by his magical origami storytelling. However, he stands out as having a physical disability. He has only one eye. The other was cut out by his evil grandfather.
Immediately this imperfection stands out against other animated heroes. Sure there have been plenty of children’s tales with parents lost and growing up poor, but few films actually allow their protagonist to be maimed in anyway. How to Train Your Dragon is a recent example, but even in that film, Hiccup’s accident happens at the end of the story.
Kubo does not let his handicap slow him down. In fact, he is mostly fine with his single eye, and is comfortable enough to crack jokes at his own expense. His verve allows him to be a star entertainer in the village, which allows him to scrap together enough coin so he hand his mother can survive.
His mother is a waif-like creature who only comes to herself after sundown. She’s a grand storyteller herself and possesses a strong magic, which Kubo has all inherited. When she is herself she warns Kubo repeatedly to never be caught outside after dark. What seems to be a mother’s overblown concern turns into a life or death situation for Kubo.
As he discovers that his grandfather is the king of the moon and his mother is a moon nymph, who fell in love with a mortal man. His father was killed by the Moon King. And his evil aunts now can track Kubo. In last ditch effort to save her son, his mother sacrifices herself using the last bit of her magic to spirit Kubo away while she fights her sisters.
When Kubo comes back to himself, he is confronted by a snow monkey who talks. Monkey is in fact the figurine he always carried brought to life. Maternal, protective and pragmatic, Monkey protects Kubo as he starts a quest to find magical armor that will protect himself from the Mooon King. Along the way they meet Beetle—a half bug-half samurai—with a memory problem but a huge heart.
Kubo and the Two Strings is non-stop action and fun. The cast is star studded with Game of Throne’s Art Parkinson voicing Kubo; Charilze Theron voicing Monkey and Matthew McConaughey playing Beetle. Even George Takei makes an appearance as one of the villager grandfathers.
Yet even better than the voice acting was the animation. Director Travis Knight and LAIKA studios proved that stop animation is still magical and visceral—more so than traditional or computer animation. The tangible quality to the characters cannot be captured by a computer, no matter how good the software. However, the film did make use of computerized backgrounds and landscapes. Combining computer with stop-motion animation made Kubo dazzle the eye.
If this film doesn’t make it to the Academy Awards for the animation category, then the Academy is doing something wrong. The only disappointment was the lack of diverse voice actors. This film was a perfect opportunity to use Japanese or even other Asian voice actors. But instead they opted for an almost entirely white cast. Hiring Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa to add some diversity doesn’t cut it. While the cast did splendidly—in fact you cannot complain about their performance—you cannot help but cringe at the Irish-accented Kubo.
Setting aside the lack of diversity, Kubo and the Two Strings soars easily to the top for best original animated story so far this year—and is a must see for kids and adults.
- Kaely Monahan is a journalist, graduate of City University London and the creator of Popcorn Fan Film Reviews. Follow her @PopcornFans and @KaelyMonahan.