'Kubo and the Two Strings' Effortlessly Plucks at the Heart
By Devvon Eubanks
Bedtime stories are a big part of what drives children to dream. Tales of rescuing damsels in distress from a menacing evil, journeys across vast landscapes to retrieve a legendary item, and battles with formidable enemies are fables that excite little ones before their nightly slumber. But in the center of these legendary narratives lies a hero (or group of heroes) that seeks to achieve extraordinary feats on behalf of the quest, the people, or even his own growth as a person. This individual tests the limits of his own ability and becomes an icon to look up to and emulate. Thus we begin with a story of one such boy who goes on such a journey to discover who he is and why he is special.
“Kubo and the Two Strings” focuses on a small boy named Kubo (Art Parkinson) who stays with his ill mother (Charlize Theron) and makes a living as a storyteller in the nearby Sun Village below the mountains where he lives. Long ago, Kubo and his mother ran away from an evil force after his father was killed by the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and the boy’s left eye was taken. Because of this, Kubo is instructed by his mother never to stay outside after dark or else his grandfather, the Moon King, will know where he is and come to claim his other eye. However, while visiting a village one day, Kubo finds out about a ceremony to communicate with deceased loved ones. Making special preparations to stay later than usual, Kubo attempts to talk to his father and find answers for what has happened since he was a baby, but he receives no response. Infuriated, Kubo tries to leave but finds out that he is too late when he encounters a pair of his grandfather’s evil sisters who attempt to take him. Making a daring escape with the aid of his mother, Kubo later finds himself in a strange place, staring eye to eye with a talking Monkey, and is given a mission: retrieve all three pieces of his father’s legendary armor and defeat the Moon King once and for all.
At the outset of this film, the first thing that grabs the viewer’s attention is the creative animation style. Similar to 1989’s “Wallace and Gromit,” the clay-like style brings renewed life to the similar graphical styles of recent animated films from Illumination Entertainment and others. Kubo and the various on-screen characters have a unique look and are very vibrant in their movements and acting. When coupled with an Eastern background and atmosphere, as well as a musical score full of Japanese shamisens, drums, violins, and more, the film effectively immerses the observer into an epic tale that emulates much of Japanese mythology and lore. Kubo’s journey also takes him across many landscapes, from snowy mountain regions to tumultuous waters full of sea monsters, all while seamlessly building on the plot of magic, monsters, and mystery. It is an extremely well-done story that will entice children and adults alike.
In addition to the setting, musical score, and art style, the characters themselves also add much to the story. First, there are Kubo’s traveling mates, Monkey and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), who share an interesting dynamic as a mother and father to Kubo, as well as friends that he can rely on as the journey progresses. Monkey is a stern, by-the-numbers character that mentors Kubo on becoming a hero and doesn’t pull any punches. Conversely, Beetle is a fun and aloof character with great bravery who believes in Kubo and trains him on how to be a warrior. Kubo’s enemies are also quite menacing, as the Moon King’s sisters are elusive and deadly as armed shadows of the night, relentlessly seeking to bring the boy to the Moon King so he can claim his second eye. The supporting characters in the Sun Village also play a secondary family to Kubo, as he is very close with them and loves to entertain them. Naturally, most of the character development of this film is focused on Kubo, who is surprisingly brave, intelligent, and creative. Unlike many heroes that start out inexperienced and are molded by their journey, Kubo is a capable boy that fights using origami and the power of his three-string shamisen. He quickly adapts to changing situations and shows that he can tackle the most pressing of issues. And he is a character of substance-unlike many animated characters in a film-his charm, confidence, and bravery inspires children and teaches them that any situation can be overcome with faith and focus. Overall, all the characters round out this film well and help to bring more depth to an already grand adventure.
“Kubo and the Two Strings” is a massive success as an animated film and has very little to no flaws. The Japanese environment and musical score, are amazing, the clay-like animation and art style provide viewers a deeper look into the world, and the characters are unforgettable and give inspiration in a story about bravery and overcoming obstacles. It is a movie that supersedes many of the animated films released this year and is truly begging for a sequel. Hopefully the audience won’t have to wait too long to revisit the world of Kubo and his friends. Because this bedtime story is one that has a truly happy ending.