Movie Review - Kubo and the Two Strings

This is the fourth feature from the Laika company, an animation studio that specializes in stop-motion animation, and it's a wonder to behold. One assumes that computers aided in some way and perhaps they did, but the majority of the characters are puppets, miniature or otherwise, that are filmed in an actual, physical space. It's not all digital creations. There's a tactile feeling to it. 3D computer animation from Pixar and DreamWorks can achieve the same visuals at this point, but there's an even deeper and more intense tactile feeling that stop-motion brings.

Directed by Travis Knight in his feature debut but who worked as the lead animator in the previous three Laika features, and written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler, this is a fun and emotional adventure for children with interesting and comical characters. It's set in a Japanese village and is full of Asian culture and imagery. It's beautiful to say the least, and it's entertaining all the way to the end until things come together too easily only to then fall apart.

Art Parkinson (Game of Thrones) voices Kubo, an 11-year-old boy who only has one eye. He lives with his mother atop a mountain that overlooks a Japanese village. His mother has magical powers, which she has passed to her son. During the day, Kubo visits the village and tells them a story, using his guitar, which can command leaves of paper to come to life and reenact his story.

Kubo's mother always tells him to return home before sundown or something bad will happen. One day, he stays in the village past sundown and indeed something bad happens. Kubo and the village are attacked by twin sisters who are basically witches that command smoke.

Sidenote: The attack reminded me of the ABC series Lost. The final season of that show featured an episode where a village was attacked after sundown by a person who could also command smoke.

The village is destroyed, but Kubo is set out on a journey possibly to fight and defeat the forces that destroyed his village, or at last to gather armor and weapons to protect him if he's attacked again. However, the way Kubo reacts after the attack, it seems as if his mother didn't give him the full breakdown of her magical powers and the true threat against him.

Kubo's mother should have been like Sarah Connor from Terminator 2: Judgment Day and should have been more on the ball about preparing and training her son for the pending danger. It seems like she told him stories, but never hammered the serious harm that could come. Later, Kubo is told the story of why the attacks happened, but it's unclear why he wasn't told this story years prior.

Charlize Theron voices Monkey, the caring but stern primate who is very well-trained in fighting. Monkey magically appears to help Kubo on his journey. She started out as a toy or charm figure that Kubo's mother made.

Matthew McConaughey voices Beetle, a half-man and half-insect that is in fact a samurai who lost his memory but he dedicates himself to protecting Kubo on his journey as well.

Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Carol) voices the Twin Sisters, the aforementioned witches that can command smoke and chains with the ability to fly or at least levitate. Eventually, the sisters track down Kubo and attack again. Monkey and Beetle do their best to keep Kubo safe.

In a way, the movie is a martial arts flick meets The Wizard of Oz. The Wicked Witch of the West is represented by the Twin Sisters. Kubo is obviously Dorothy. Monkey and Beetle are versions or offshoots of the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion.

Ralph Fiennes (Schindler's List and The English Patient) voices the Moon King. If I were maintaining the Frank L. Baum comparisons, the Moon King would be the veritable Wizard of Oz only more evil and twisted. His goal is to remove both eyes of Kubo. Moon King gives some convoluted reason, which is supposedly to help Kubo and unite them, but it makes no sense.


By the end, the Moon King loses his memory and is told stories as memories. It's unclear if these stories are true, or if they're fabricated in order to give the Moon King good memories and thus a happier outlook. There wasn't much of a back-story for the Moon King, so I couldn't tell what benefit that served or how I should feel about it.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for scary images, action and peril.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 41 mins.


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