Whimsy can be a tough thing to intentionally pull off. Films who try to add a dose of whimsy to their stories often tumble into being too cutesy or precocious. Kubo and the Two Strings has the exact perfect dose of whimsy, and it does so because it instead focuses on storytelling and character relationships.
The stop motion animated film begins with a word of advice: pay close attention. Though the exact meaning of that pointer becomes clear as the film goes on, it does establish an interesting atmosphere in the world of Kubo. This is a world of myth and heroes, which means that there will be rules and specific goals. Just as Odysseus was given clear guidelines to finish his quest, Kubo is given his own instructions.
Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy who spends his nights taking care of his sick mother, and his days earning money telling stories and playing music at the local market. Kubo’s stories come to life through origami, with little squares of paper flying through the air. His tales captivate the entire village, as the whole market stops in their tracks to watch the spectacle. It is clear that Kubo is a special boy, and that his connection with the legends he retells is deep.
When Kubo is swept away from is everyday life into a hero’s quest, complete with instructions and a monkey guide (Charlize Theron), he knows that he must commit to being victorious. He is set upon to locate three specific items and cannot return home until his quest is completed.
The challenges Kubo faces are far creepier than I expected in a children’s film. They are not necessarily violent or bloody, but there is a distinct sense of danger for Kubo and his companions. The real threat of death within an animated film recalls the cinematic trauma of The Last Unicorn in the best way possible. Children can handle far more than we often give them credit for, and Kubo and the Two Strings treats the entire audience with enough respect to show them the real danger of defending your life.
Though the film is far more nuanced and contemplative than your typically family film, the one place where Kubo and the Two Strings has a slight misstep is the humor. Most of the jokes are at the expense of either Monkey or Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) and the jokes are cheap and predictable. Perhaps the children in the audience appreciate the pitfalls or telegraphed punchlines, but I found them distracting and obvious.
But I assure you that the simplistic humor in the film is the only small mistake throughout the entire glorious film. The animation is perfectly beautiful, and the sequences with flying origami completely capture the audience’s imagination. Each new task Kubo must complete comes with a new environment that immerses the characters into their mission. From a frozen wasteland to the sea the film invents a new interpretation of the world that is just whimsical enough to feel like you have travelled to another world altogether.
To say that I enjoyed Kubo and the Two Strings would be a categorical understatement. The film’s visuals, storytelling, and characters made it a lovely and occasionally tense world to visit.
Director: Travis Knight
Film Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: August 19, 2016
- Score - 9/109/10