Kubo and the Two Strings received a nomination at this year’s Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture - Animated. It lost to Zootopia, and I am not surprised. My review of Zootopia sings its praises; Kubo and the Two Strings did not come up to that level.
This is a curious little film, as it is an American production, yet the story takes place in ancient Japan. Magic figures heavily from the very beginning, when we see Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) and his mother on a small boat being tossed about by gigantic waves. They survive the storm and live isolated in a cave outside of a small village.
Kubo earns money for food by being a storyteller. He plays a stringed musical instrument, and the origami figures he creates come to life as he relates a story to his eager audience. Always told by his mother to return to the seaside cave before dark, one evening he does not, and meets the specters of his two deceased aunts, the Sisters (Rooney Mara). This begins a dangerous journey for him where he meets Monkey (Charlize Theron), and giant Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) and they venture forth together.
Travel through the spirit world is a huge part of Kubo’s quest, and it is not until the very end that I saw the lesson, if you will, of the story. Kubo meets the spirit of his grandfather, Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), and then has an epiphany about people who pass away and what happens to their souls. It seems quite Buddhist in nature and I really liked that part of the story.
The animation skills were quite extraordinary, and I recommend viewing any special features about the making of this film that would be included on the DVD. George Takei has a small role as a townsperson, Hosato. That is the only other voice I recognized in the film.
If you like magic and fantasy, you might find this story to your liking. It seems rather scary for small children to watch, and is rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril. If I was a parent, I’d be cautious about allowing younger children to watch this film. Kubo’s grandfather stole his eye, his mother’s Sisters and the Moon King are out to steal his other eye, and it is just really a terrifying tale to subject little children to.
The film was in English and as I said previously, it was a Japanese tale. I almost would have preferred it be Japanese with English subtitles. Some themes reminded me a bit of the classic and, much better animated feature, Spirited Away. Lots of magic and questing in that film too, but where Spirited Away had a plot that was well-defined, Kubo’s adventure and motives were not always clear, and that was a failing.
Would I recommend this film to you? Unfortunately not. I liked Zootopia much better. Coraline by the same studio (Laika) would be more worth your time.