Kubo and the Two Strings: Another Gem From Laika
When you think of a hero’s weapon, you probably think of a sword or a gun or perhaps even a pen, but you probably wouldn’t think of a shamisen. Such is the case for Kubo (Art Parkinson), a one-eyed boy living in seclusion with his mother (Charlize Theron) who has the ability to control paper with his music, folding it like origami and making it move as he wills it. But one night, his wicked aunts (Rooney Mara) catch up with them to try and take him to his grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), who wants to take Kubo’s one good eye. His mother sacrifices herself to help Kubo escape, sending him to find a powerful set of armor that she told him of in stories. His travels are made easier by some unlikely companions: a no-nonsense monkey named Monkey (Charlize Theron) and an amnesiac samurai cursed into an insect shape named Beetle (Matthew McConaughey). The journey takes them across icy tundras and treacherous waters as they press forward to get Kubo out of the Moon King’s shadow once and for all.
Kubo and the Two Strings is absolutely stellar, taking us on an engaging journey of magic and mystery with a lot of action along the way. This story was brought to us by the stop motion studio Laika, who gave us Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls, so as you can see they have a good track record. But man, did they knock it out of the park on this one. The story is heavily influenced by Asian stories and art pieces, which the film captures the feel of brilliantly. From the atmosphere to the sprawling backgrounds to even the shamisen music as the score, it really feels like this popped right out of a Japanese story book or an episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
The plot is admittedly standard and straightforward, relying on the tropes of the hero’s journey. Many people I watched the movie with called the twists way before the movie revealed them. The fact is, though, that the story was so well told that none of us minded. The atmosphere, characters, and set pieces are so engaging that we can overlook the fact that we’ve seen this stuff before. Not to mention, the story really stands on its own. Unlike Avatar, where the story has been done to death, Kubo and the Two Strings tells a solid story that doesn’t wear out over time and could be its own fairy tale.
I was excited for this movie from the first moment that I saw the trailer and it exceeded all of my expectations. There’s so much I’d love to discuss about symbolism and hidden meanings, but all of them require spoilers and I want my readers to remain fresh when you go see it (and you should go see it). I will leave you only with the following quick thoughts: the wicked aunts are some of the creepiest villains I’ve seen in a long time, I love how the movie can take its time with some of the slow scenes and therefore teach the kids in the audience patience, the animation is absolutely brilliant for being down with stop motion, and I have to applaud this movie for allowing its characters to have some disfigurements on their faces and not be “Hollywood beautiful.” This is definitely a movie I’ll buy when it comes out on video, which is high praise in this economy.
This is the second Laika movie to star one of the Starks from Game of Thrones. The Boxtrolls starred Issac Hempstead-Wright, who plays the North’s favorite cripple, Bran Stark. Kubo and the Two Strings, on the other hand, is played by Art Parkinson, who plays Rickon Stark, Bran’s younger brother and traveling companion for most of the series.