Starring: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara & Ralph Fiennes
Written by: Marc Haimes & Chris Butler
Story by: Shannon Tindle & Marc Haines
Directed by: Travis Knight
Running Time: 1hr 41mins
WINNER – BAFTA AWARDS: Best Animated Feature Film
NOMINATED – ACADEMY AWARDS: Best Feature Film of the Year and Best Achievement in Special Effects
“Stop-motion has this sort of weird, magical charm and energy that reminds us what it was like when we were kids, I still have that feeling to this day. Even though I’ve been doing this for 20 years, when I walk to a stop-motion set and I see the puppets underneath those beautiful lights, I don’t feel the medium has lost any of its allure, charm or magic. It’s still just as beautiful as it was when I was a kid running home from school to see those after-school specials and movies.” – Travis Knight, Director of KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS opens with a warning for its audience, “If you must blink, do it now.” Well, trust me, they’re not kidding. Get it out of your system early because if you dare to look away at the wrong moment, you might miss something spectacular. From the opening scene where a woman battles her way through stormy ocean waves to the film’s final shot, KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS will have you staring on with amazement at the incredible visuals that are being presented – visuals that were mostly created with the labor-intensive and time-consuming art of stop motion animation, which makes it all the more wondrous.
The story itself plays like a dark fairy tale and tells of Kubo, a young boy who’s had one eye stolen by his villainous grandfather, The Moon King. To get him away from the evil man’s clutches, Kubo’s mother runs away and takes him to a far-off land to live in secret. A few years later, armed with a magical lute and some enchanted origami figures, Kubo spends his days dazzling a nearby village with mythical stories about, as he says, “…mighty warriors seeking revenge, with battles and monsters and magic…” stories that he can never seem to finish before he must return home. This is because, as his mother continuously warns him, if he stays out after sundown, her evil sisters will be able to use their magic to find and bring him back to the Moon King who awaits to take his other eye. Of course, as this is a movie, young Kubo eventually finds himself out too late and these warnings prove to be true. His aunts track him down, forcing Kubo’s mother to use the last of her magic to help him escape. Now, assisted by some newfound friends, Monkey (magically born from Kubo’s beloved wooden charm), Hanzo (an origami warrior brought to life) and Beetle (a samurai cursed into the form of an insect), Kubo sets out on a quest to find three pieces of his father’s legacy – The Sword Unbreakable, the Armor Impenetrable and the Helmet Invulnerable – to help protect him against his mother’s evil sisters and the Moon King.
If I’m being honest I have to admit up front that on the surface the film’s plot is rather simple as the filmmakers seem more interested in the movie’s themes and artistry than creating anything too complicated in the main story structure. That being said, writers Marc Haimes and Chris Butler have written a script that effectively explores the notion that our memories are the strongest magic we have because they hold the stories of who we are and those we’ve lost and it’s the exploration of this idea that really draws viewers into Kubo’s “internal” journey.
The writers do a great job in creating some really wonderful characters too. With enough mythical backstory woven into the film to keep the characters’ emotions real and interesting, audiences will find themselves really beginning to care for Kubo, Monkey and Beetle. Art Parkinson is great as the voice of Kubo, adding the right amount of heart to the role and giving some real weight to the character’s emotions while discovering the truth regarding much of his family’s past. Charlize Theron is also wonderful as Monkey. Her deadpan delivery mixes well with the animator’s visual interpretation of the character’s actions, adding some real humor to the sense of seriousness needed to play Kubo’s mentor and hard-headed protector effectively. Then there’s Mathew McConaughey’s humorous portrayal of Beatle, the Half man, half insect who may or may not be a link to the truth of what happened to Kubo’s father. He’s been cursed by the evil aunts and has very little memory of who he is, which at times adds just the perfect amount of light humor to a somewhat dark story. Lastly, Rooney Mara is incredibly effective as the two evil aunts, giving their voices a truly eerie quality that will bring a small shiver down everyone’s spine. Mixed with the chilling character design, which has the two sisters wearing masks of their own faces so that their mouths don’t move as they talk, the sisters become a couple of genuinely creepy entities to experience.
The true key to what makes KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS so amazing though is the incredible craftsmanship used to bring the story to life. The movie succeeds not because of the story it tells, but instead because of the marvelous way it’s told. Make no mistake about it, this is one of those movies that is hard to forget after seeing it. The visual artistry that comes alive in front the viewer’s eyes is absolutely stunning. The stop-motion animation along with the character and production designs is as impressive as we could expect as the film is brought to life with an incredible attention to detail. It is this detail that really adds an additional level of excitement to the adventure that our heroes are on and this is a film that will really benefit from being watched on the biggest screen possible. Everything from the attack of the two evil aunts that forces Kubo onto his journey to the big climactic battle with the Moon King is nothing short of amazing as the imagery put on display throughout seems to be inspired by filmmakers such as Akira Kurosawa, Hayao Miyazaki and Tim Burton. Early in the film, as we are first introduced to Kubo’s magical talents that come from the strum of his instrument’s strings, paper leaps to the sky folding into origami figures that help tell Kubo’s stories. The stop motion animation in this scene is so amazing that it gives us some of the best visual moments present in any movie released in 2016. The scenes with the evil sisters are haunting in their dark tones (which may be a little too creepy for younger children) while watching Kubo, Monkey and Beetle sail the high seas in a ship made of leaves is truly unforgettable. The scene where Kubo encounters the incredible underwater garden of eyes is a personal favorite and there is even a stunning fight with a giant skeleton that utilized the largest stop motion figure ever created for a movie (18 feet tall) that will have your eyes glued to the screen. Inspired by the old-school Ray Harryhausen films, this type of animation really allowed the animators the opportunity to show off their talents while testing their imaginary limits. The visual nature is so striking at times that I would predict if you were to turn off the dialogue track and watch the film with only its amazing score by Dario Marianelli accompanying it, the experience would be just as wonderful.
KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS tells the classic hero’s journey and showcases some real ambition within its artistry. The animators have achieved a level of visual wonder not seen in many modern-day movies, offering up a spectacular experience that audiences won’t soon forget. The film’s exploration of the theme regarding the magic of our memories is truly fascinating as well. One last word of warning though, as you click the play button to watch this marvelous movie remember: “If you blink, do it now.”
Watch KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS.
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