I am a big fan of Laika Studio’s work. Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls are all beautiful and beautifully dark. When I saw the trailer for Kubo and the Two Strings (hereafter, just Kubo. because i’m trying to stave off carpal tunnel syndrome) I was stunned. It looked even more beautiful than the studio’s previous films. Needless to say, I was sold. So, opening weekend, I loaded up the kid (my 7-year-old human child) and headed out to the theater. Now, this might be the part where you’re expecting a twist to this story – it was sold out, or we got in an accident – but that’s not the case. We bought our tickets and found primo seats in the center of the auditorium. The only reason I mention it is because we got there about 30 seconds before the trailers started. And the primo seats were still available. Sure, it was the first show of the day. But I expected a lot more people on day two of a children’s movie. A lot more than the 12 or so that were there. When I saw the box office returns on Tuesday, I got a pang of disappointment bordering on sadness. Despite the film’s glowing reviews (like the one you’re about to read), it barely made a (financial) ripple. We can argue about the importance / unimportance of box office earnings to the “art of film” all day. But in the end, if a beautiful / creative / artistic film tanks at the ticket counter, then fewer beautiful / creative / artistic films will get funded and made. As somebody somewhere once said, “this is why we can’t have nice things”. Please read on to see why I think you should check out the film ASAP.
When he was a tiny infant, Kubo’s mom faced unimaginable peril to escape with him from her father and sisters, who want to steal his other eye (they successfully stole one of them already). She just barely manages to make it to a small seaside enclave near a tiny village. A few years later, Kubo makes money to support himself and his mother by telling riveting stories and playing his shamisen while paper magically folds into amazing origami characters that act out the riveting stories. He’s taking care of his mother even though he’s very young because she spends most days in a stupor or very confused. But even when she’s confused she always presses upon him the importance of never staying out after sundown; always keeping his monkey totem on his person; and always wearing his long-gone father’s kimono. The latter two become important after he breaks the first rule and his aunts find him and his mom. After that he’s plunged into a perilous journey to find the mythical armor that his mom told him about through stories that he’d always assumed were fictional. These may be enough to protect him from his evil grandfather. His guides and protectors on this journey are a Japanese snow macaque (a monkey) and a giant samurai beetle.
I already mentioned that this film is beautiful, but it bares repeating: this film is beautiful. Laika, under Travis Knight’s direction, uses the entire frame and stunning depth to create an immersive fantasy world. This complete and complex framing draws the viewer in and whisks him / her / xyr along on this animated child’s adventure. There’s emotional depth as well. Kubo’s affection for and protection of his mother is endearing and his fear of losing her resonates with anyone who’s ever been a kid. “But, is it horror?!” Welllll… Not specifically. There’s a lot of peril, to be sure. And there are some spooky (really spooky) characters. And nightmares. And ghosts. And an extended sequence that involves a battle with a huge skeleton. So, it does provide some scares. But those are mainly secondary to the adventure elements. More accurately, they are the adventure elements. That’s not a criticism. I didn’t expect horror going into it. I’m just clarifying. This is a horror blog after all. But, no matter what genre you’re most partial to, this is a wonderful film for any age.
Bonus content: My only real criticism of this film is of the decision to cast white actors in the roles of Japanese characters. Whatever the excuse, it’s just some more Hollywood BS.
The Final Cut: Kubo and the Two Strings is a gorgeous film with a lot of heart that will appeal to all types and ages of film fans