If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see, no matter how unusual it may seem. If you look away, even for an instant, our hero will surely perish.
The opening lines of Kubo and the Two Strings feel like the beginning of a powerful spell. In a way, they are: young Kubo is about to tell a story, and he doesn’t want us to miss a second of its spell-binding magic. LAIKA, the animation studio that gave us gems like Coraline and ParaNorman, produces an entirely novel film with Kubo.
It opens with Kubo’s mother in a small boat, cutting down the middle of a gigantic cresting wave, cradling her one-eyed son in order to reach the stone mountain in the distance.
Eleven years later, their roles have reversed, and Kubo takes care of his mother, who is in a trancelike state of grief. Still, she is lucid enough to tell her son epic tales of his deceased father’s bravery and warn him to never go out at night, for danger awaits. One night, Kubo accidentally stays out late, and danger finds him in the form of his mother’s evil sisters, who try to steal his remaining eye.
Joined by a maternal talking monkey and a giant samurai beetle, Kubo goes on a journey to find his father’s unbreakable armor before his aunts catch and deliver him to the evil Moon King. He must fulfill his destiny or go blind trying.
Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey deliver warm, funny vocal performances, and Art Parkinson shines as a passionate, heroic young boy. However, the quality of the voice cast aside, it is disappointing that Kubo and the Two Strings fails to populate its major roles with actors of Asian descent. Only George Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (in minor roles) represent the Japanese culture depicted in the film.
Nonetheless, in a sea of watered-down stories for children, this movie is a lifeboat. C.S. Lewis said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” This film challenges viewers of all ages, not only children, to consider their place within their own families, while simultaneously reminding them that the world is a much better place when we show our feelings.
It contains genuinely surprising twists, countless laugh-out-loud moments, chilling villains, and most importantly, profound moments of familial love. Kubo champions the importance of compassion, forgiveness, and embracing humanity’s plethora of imperfections.
In addition, there is no question of how beautiful this film is. It is full of heart, brains, bravery, and also visual magic. Origami figures duel and dance around Kubo, a duo of witches with porcelain masks for faces and billowing black capes descend from the sky, and the strike of a shamisen–a three-stringed Japanese instrument similar to a guitar–causes thousands of autumn leaves to assemble themselves into a ship.
True to its opening lines, Kubo is designed to make its audience want to never blink.
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