Young Kubo’s peaceful existence comes crashing down when he accidentally summons a vengeful spirit from the past. Now on the run, Kubo joins forces with Monkey and Beetle to unlock a secret legacy. Armed with a magical instrument, Kubo must battle the Moon King and other gods and monsters to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known.
1080p, 2.40:1 aspect ratio, English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
2016, Rated PG, 1 hour 42 minutes
Starring: The voices of- Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro, Rooney Mara, Matthew McConaughey
Directed by: Travis Knight
At first glance, Kubo and the Two Strings may be the kind of movie many people dismiss as just a strange animated film for a niche audience. Those that do so deny themselves one of the very best cinematic experiences to come around in a very long time. Kubo is one of those rare films that has an incredible story, a powerful message, wonderful characters, arresting sound, and amazingly unique visual beauty. This all combines to make it a masterpiece in my mind – a piece of art that must be experienced by anyone who considers themselves a fan of the cinema.
The best way to encapsulate Kubo is to say that at its core, it is a fable. The story comes across as one that might have been told to kids at bedtime, much like a Brothers Grimm or Hans Christen Andersen fairy tale. A young boy loses his parents and must go on a quest to find that which will protect him from his evil grandfather and aunts, who are responsible for their deaths. Along the way he meets several magical characters that aid him in his journey. At the climax, Kubo must face his enemy and defeat him. Sounds rather basic, no? Yet it is anything but. The intricate back-story you learn about Kubo and his family as the story goes on creates a rich and wonderful depth to the characters. For example, we know that Hanso, the samurai warrior about whom he tells his stories in the town square is actually his father, who perished protecting him and his mother from his evil grandfather – the Moon King. We come to understand why his grandfather is evil, why his mother seems lost, and how he can leverage his memories of them to aid in his quest.
Magic is an important piece to the puzzle as well. Early on, we learn that Kubo possesses some magical skill with the aid of his trusty instrument. He is able to animate paper to act out his stories to the delight of his audience. Indeed, we later find that his mother’s dreams can similarly make paper come to life. Magic also is responsible for Monkey and Beetle coming to life as anthropomorphic characters that were once a charm and a samurai warrior, respectively. Kubo’s mother uses the last bit of her magic before she dies to bring Monkey to life to be Kubo’s protector during his quest. As time goes on, Kubo’s ability to use and control his magical abilities increases and he is even able to summon his parents, if only to see them for a moment.
The action and adventure are terrific, but I keep returning to the storytelling itself as to what sets this movie apart. The genius here is how Kubo is a storyteller himself – and his stories, though initially unbeknownst to him, are actually tales of his parents’ past. Perhaps that is why he never actually finishes his performance to the crowd in the town square – because the ending truly had not been written yet. Kubo’s quest itself will ultimately be the ending to the story. It is simply a brilliant way to bring both Kubo’s story and the movie’s story to a singular conclusion.
For any fans of previous Leika creations, the stop motion animation and digital composition will be nothing short of astounding. If you thought Coraline or The Boxtrolls looked good, you are in for a real treat. As far as the transfer to Blu-Ray is concerned, I found that the picture looked excellent for the most part, but it seemed to be a bit dim overall and lacking a bit in the contrast department as compared with the cinematic release. The difference is small, but noticeable, and thus the lack of a perfect score for the video. There is a 3D version available as well, though I did not have that to review.
The score of the film is wonderful and perfectly suited to the story. Most of it is centered around themes played by Kubo on his instrument. I found myself excited as soon as Kubo raised his pick to begin playing – because the way the music jumps in is electrifying, and signifies something interesting is about to happen. The sound editing is terrific as well. Perhaps the best scene to demonstrate the surround sound is when Kubo must capture the Sword Unbreakable from the gigantic skeleton. They make excellent use of the bass channel to portray the monster’s size and as Kubo and friends swing through the air, the surround channels provide perfect support for what you see on the screen. I also would give a tip of my hat to the rendition of While My Guitar Gently Weeps that plays during the stylized credits. Any Beatles fan, or music fan in general, should stay and enjoy it!
Kubo and the Two Strings is a masterpiece of cinema and perhaps one of the best films of 2016. It is up against big studios and more prominent competition for any major awards, but I urge anyone with an academy vote to give this film their full attention as it is truly deserving of consideration. I went in to this film with no expectations having not even really heard of the film, but came out a believer in its powerful storytelling and amazing technical achievement. I cannot recommend this movie enough as it will certainly find a place in my library amongst my favorite movies.
- Kubo’s Journey: Introduction by Director/Producer Travis Knight
- Kubo’s Journey: Japanese Inspiration
- Kubo’s Journey: Mythological Monsters
- Kubo’s Journey: Braving the Elements
- Kubo’s Journey: The Redemptive and Healing Power of Music
- Kubo’s Journey: Epilogue by Director/Producer Travis Knight
- Corners of the Earth
- The Myth of Kubo
- Feature Commentary with Director/Producer Travis Knight