Back when “Kubo and the Two Strings” was released, I had the chance to review it. While it is no longer streaming, it is available on Amazon and the DVD can be bought. With that being the case, I wanted to revisit this beautiful, animated film and tell you what I thought about it at the time.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a stop-motion 3-D animated story of a boy and his quest from Laika Studio. It is a sweeping and immersive story that is beautifully executed to draw the viewer into Kubo’s world. I had high hopes for the film, after watching the previews with actors such as Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes and Rooney Mara to name a few and I was not disappointed. Kubo and the Two Strings is not your ordinary animated film and if you are looking for a Disney type film, this might not be for you. But I found it beautiful and heartwarming with excellent use of stop motion effects.
It begins with Kubo, the main character lives in a village in ancient Japan taking care of his mother and during the day, telling stories to the villagers. It is clear from the beginning that this isn’t an ordinary story, with Kubo’s stories coming to life with music from his shamisen and origami creations. His mother is sick but wakes in the evening to spend time with Kubo and warn him about keeping his monkey charm close and avoid being out after the sun sets. As with all fairytales, we know what happens when our hero is warned not to do something. Inevitably, he or she fails and the true story begins. This is the case with Kubo. He is attacked and the village destroyed. His mother saves him but he is separated from her and must find a way to save himself by locating a magical sword and armor. With the help of Monkey and Beetle, he sets out to find the items that will allow him to defeat his grandfather the Moon King. In his quest, he fights monsters and gods while solving the mystery of his father, a mighty samurai warrior.
The movie has many layers to it. To the initial eye, it is a fun adventure of a young boy who wants to save his mother and himself. Children will like it because while it has some darker elements, those parts are balanced well with humor and adventure. Children will also like that Kubo gets to be the hero of the story. Yes, Monkey and Beetle help but he is shown to be capable and is clearly the star. And it is nice to see a child that isn’t perfect. He still struggles but he is also capable of great accomplishments. In the end, he chooses how he wants his story to be told.
For adults, Kubo holds more subtle themes. Central to the core of the movie is family and how family helps you to be stronger. In addition, woven throughout the movie is the idea of stories being transformative and that each of us has a story to tell. It also paints an idea that the memories that we carry with us about our family are stories as well and no matter what, we carry those stories with us, no matter where we go in life. Because of that theme, there are times when the story is predictable but that helps build and carry forward the theme of stories all around us.
Kubo and the Two Strings is respectful of the culture of Japan, even having scenes highlighting Shinto concepts with the villagers having shrines where they speak with the spirits of those who have passed on. This highlights the main themes of family and tradition showing that Kubo’s quest is ultimately is about his family. Some of these aspects are reminiscent of Studio Gibli and Miyasaki films, reminding me of such films like “Spirited Away” or “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, where the films don’t shy away from darker ideas while still maintaining a spirit of humor and hopefulness. Kubo has that same spirit, being both heartwarming and adventurous while still able to have a realism that adds depth.
I liked those more realistic ideas. This is not the traditional family where everyone is perfect. This family has problems but they still tell their stories and they still love each other. There is a line from the movie: “You are my quest.” This is what Kubo’s father tells his mother when they meet. I like the idea that love doesn’t conquer all but it makes you strong and that family is what each person is seeking in the story. Not all of the family shows it well but they are all trying to be with their family in their own way. And in the end, that idea of family being together is the most important part of the movie.
My one negative is minor. I didn’t really see the need for the movie to be in 3-D. I will admit to not being a fan of 3-D movies. The story could well have been told without those effects. That said, the studio did a beautiful job with the 3-D effects, using them in a much more capable and effective way than I have ever seen before. I liked how it worked, despite my normal dislike for it. I hadn’t heard of Studio Laika prior to this movie but with their thoughtfulness in crafting their story and their beautiful effects, I will certainly be looking for more from them.
If you like a heartwarming story with humor and adventure for the whole family, you will love this Kubo and the Two Strings. Yes, it has darker concepts but children will likely not notice with how deftly the humor and fun is woven throughout the story and adults will find themselves immersed in the beauty of the artwork as well as the tale. The scenes are sweeping and immersive. And the effects will keep you glued to your seats.
It is available on Prime Video to rent and AppleTV.