**A song’s worth of spoilers**
It’s not hard to admit I know very little about stop motion filming. It’s not a style I’m used to watching. In fact, the few that I can readily call to mind are the more familiar Christmas movies such as Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer. Given that Rudolph was released in 1964, it is safe to assume that the technology innovations that have been developed since then have greatly changed the ball game when it comes to animation.
Kubo and the Two Strings is the most recent release from Focus Features and features the aforementioned animation as well as an all-star cast. To say it is a visual masterpiece does not do it justice. The detail found within the movie is breathtaking and at the very least could be described as a riot of color.
The plot follows a young boy who would be the envy of any musician because he literally has magic in his fingertips, inherited from his mother before him. His weapon of choice through the movie is the samisen, a three stringed Japanese guitar-type instrument that when played allows his thoughts to swirl to life from the origami paper creatures he creates. The storytelling is beautiful to watch but a little predictable. The stories he tells in the marketplace that he learned from his mother foreshadow events to come, and more often than not, hold the key to surviving the demons that follow him. The plot is never dull and never hard to follow and it holds some very endearing and heartwarming moments hidden away behind Samurai battles and giant skeletons.
As I watched this movie (in an entirely empty theater – because it’s Saturday afternoon and I live in a town where sports take precedence over movies), it reminded me slightly of the storytelling to be found in films by Hayao Miyazaki, the noted Japanese filmmaker. Considering that the movie is based entirely in ancient Japan, this probably shouldn’t be surprising. It had the same beautiful themes, the riot of colors, and the same journey-like story elements that you find with movies such as Spirited Away. The animation, however, is very bright, and I almost wish that this one had been released in 3D in my small-town movie theater. I bet the effect would have been stunning.
This movie marks Matthew McConaughey’s debut in animated film (which I’m surprised it’s taken him so long to break into that market), where he plays a Beetle Samurai. Yes, you read that correctly. A winged insect with multiple appendages wielding a samurai sword who is unimaginatively named Beetle. It took me a few minutes to adjust, I will give you that. But he was entertaining to listen to and the character was sweet if slightly stupid/crazy. The characters played very well off of each other and there was plenty of fun to be had even as the movie took turns going from sweet, to terrifying, to otherworldly and then back again. Charlize Theron was oddly entertaining as a cranky monkey and even Ralph Fiennes lent his voice to the main demon of the story and was appropriately mesmerizing.
The part that struck me as particularly poignant was the message of the whole film. Throughout the whole film, Kubo tries to fend off his vicious aunts and a mysterious grandfather who had tried to steal his eyes as a child. It’s not till the end that he discovers the way to beat the evil trio is by staying human as it allows him to see and understand the humanity around him which is based on the memories of those we hold most dear. The part that got me the most was when the villagers surround a dazed old man with amnesia, who only moments ago had been a monster bent on destroying Kubo, and told him of all the wonderful things he had done with his life. How kind, generous, and loving he had been. It was a beautiful reminder that how we treat others defines who we are. If we constantly degrade, belittle, or believe the worst in everyone we meet, then that person only has that image to live up to. This crazed old man was able to change, because the villagers of the town he destroyed, stepped up and gave him a vision of someone worthy of becoming. And while yes, this was Kubo’s story, it was a very important part of the film for me. Probably more so, than Kubo’s journey itself.
Kubo was a beautifully told tale of a young boy trying to find his place in life and deserves all the acclaim it can get. Particularly in the visuals department because I have yet to see anything that matches it.
Adults: Surprisingly adult themes and a very interesting tale. This is not your typical animated movie. If you are a fan of Japanese film/storytelling you will probably love it.
Children: It’s got it’s funny moments and you will be able to relate to Kubo. There are some scary moments but Nightmare Before Christmas is far more terrifying, to be honest. At the very least you’ll enjoy the colors!