“Be bold. Be brave. Be epic.”
Directed by Travis Knight
Starring Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Matthew McConaughey and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Kubo (Parkinson) lives with his mother in a cliff overlooking the sea, using his mystical power over paper to tell stories without endings to the local villagers (including Takei and Tagawa) for an income to support himself and his ailing mother. When his desire for some contact with his late father leads him to stay out late, he draws the attention of his maternal grandfather, the vengeful Moon King (Fiennes), who sends his twin daughters (Mara) to capture Kubo.
His mother gives her last strength to send Kubo to safety and transform his monkey charm into a talking Monkey (Theron). Monkey leads him on a quest to gather his father’s invincible armour, aided by the amnesiac insect-man Beetle (McConaughey). As the quest continues, Kubo finds a true family, and ultimately confronts his grandfather with the power of his father’s weapons and his own magic.
What’s wrong with it?
Produced by US animation studio Laika, and casting mostly American actors (and Irish lad Art ‘Rikon Stark’ Parkinson), Kubo skirts the all-too common ground of whitewashing and appropriation.
What’s right with it?
The world of Kubo is a dreamlike fantasy, which helps with the whitewashing issue, and the Japanese influence is affectionate and sincere. The performances are also splendid.
The animation is beautiful.
Monkey/Mother is one of my favourite characters in a while, one of those genuine strong female characters that seem so elusive in modern media, and honestly there’s a lot could have gone wrong with a sword fighting monkey. I also liked that the Mother’s frailty was linked less to the loss of her love than to a head injury and her own lunar nature.
The sisters are super creepy, and as femme fatal-ish villains, not the least bit sexualised. Fierce hats too.
The denouement is excellent, with Kubo facing his grandfather with his father’s weapons, before recognising – as his father did before him – that his strength and his quest are not truly combative.
Casting career scary man Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Kubo’s most enthusiastic fan is a stroke of genius.
How bad is it really?
Kubo and the Two String is a gorgeous piece of work, with a simple and intimate plot dressed up in epic production values. It balances humour and horror, adventure and sentiment, personal moments and sweeping grandeur.
Best bit (if such there is)?
There’s a lot to like in this movie, but one of my favourite moments is when Kubo and his two companions, standing in for his parents, share a meal, and he comments that he has never eaten a meal sat between two other people before. Some people seem to have been disappointed by the personal nature of the stakes, but I like that aspect of it.
What’s up with…?
- Children’s movies these days? They can be a bit goddamn terrifying in places.
Production values – The animation is gorgeous, featuring Laika’s very distinctive style. 3
Dialogue and performances – Excellent performances showcase a lyrical script that never hammers its Japanese influences. 4
Plot and execution – A simple, family story plays out amid epic trappings, and defies the stock nature of its initial quest storyline. 4
Randomness – Actually, no. 1
Waste of potential – Kubo and the Two Strings is a beautiful film with very few glaring flaws. 5