Kubo and the Two Strings, in case you don’t know, is the latest in a not-so-long line of sop motion movies from Laika studios (not so long, given just how long it takes to make stop motion movies of course). Being a stop motion movie from Laika, obviously the movie was guaranteed to have some of the most stellar stop motion animation put to screen. and, thankfully, this movie has a pretty good story to go with it.
The movie tells the tale of Kubo, the son of a long dead samurai and the daughter of a celestial being called the Moon King. As a baby, the Moon King attempted to steal his eyes, but only took one; and ever since, his mother has been hiding him away in a cliff side cave, forbidding him to go out after dark. His mother is losing her memory, while Kubo takes time both caring for her, and showing off his ability to enchant origami paper using his shamisen. However, when Kubo finds himself out after dark, the Moon King’s other daughters arrive to take him away, take his other eye, and turn him into a celestial being like them. Kubo’s mother uses the last of her strength to send him away and bring his monkey charm to life. Kubo, the monkey, and a being the encounter who was once a samurai but has been cursed to be half man-half beetle, must travel around looking for three sacred pieces of armour so that Kubo can stop the Moon King.
As you might have gathered, the story is surprisingly detailed for a kids’ movie. Yet, it manages to get these details across very well, leaving few questions unanswered. In fact, one criticism I would have for the movie is that, quite frankly, I’d like to see more of what they show. The opening scenes feature some villager characters who don’t get much of a role, yet seem like fairly decent, likeable characters. There’s a lot about the celestial beings that remains unrevealed, and while this doesn’t detract too much, it feels like there was more to explore. At one point, Kubo has a strange and beautifully animated dream sequence-something I kind of wish could have happened multiple times.
Something that might just have helped with the second point too.
This movie does have two major strengths to it. The first probably goes without saying-the animation. The visuals in this movie are nothing short of spectacular. Laika has impressed me many times in the past with its stop motion. So, what does this movie have to offer? How about a battle against a red skeleton that happens to be one of the largest stop motion puppets ever put to screen? A fight between a monkey with a katana and a moon goddess aboard a ship made of leaves on a raging stormy sea?
The second main strength of the movie lies in its heart. Kubo and the Two Strings offers in interesting portrayal of family and parenthood. Without spoiling anything, Kubo starts off the movie as a lonely kid without a father, caring for his mother who spends half the day catatonic, and the other half trying to remember her life. Once his quest begins, he gains two parental substitutes in the form of Monkey and Beetle. The scenes of them bonding and acting just as any family would are genuinely heartwarming to watch.
Is the movie entirely perfect? No. The pacing around the beginning is a little slow, which isn’t helped by the fact that the full story hasn’t been explained at this point can make you eager to find out more faster. But, that said, once things get going, the action sequences and sense of adventure definitely make this one worth a watch.