Friday, August 19, 2016

Movie Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

My son and I were delighted by the chance to see an advance showing of Laika Animation Studio's newest movie KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS prior to its August 19, 2016 theatrical opening weekend.  It is always refreshing to see a film produced by Laika because the studio uses digital special effects to enhance its movies rather than be dependent on them.  Like the studio's previous films(Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls), Kubo and the Two Strings is filmed using stop motion techniques.  Stop motion is when physical objects are moved in small increments between individually photographed frames to create the illusion of movement when all the frames are played in a continuous sequence.  Utilizing stop motion means that unlike in most animated movies where the characters and backgrounds are all drawn with computerized software in Kubo and the Two Strings the majority of the images captured on film are of real physical puppets, props and sets.  This provides for stunning visual elements in the film which make it well worth going to see the show.

The movie takes place in 17th century Japan, where a young boy named Kubo lives with his ill mother in a cave on top of a mountain overlooking a village.  Each day to earn money to support himself and his mother Kubo wanders down to the village and entertains its people with stories of his deceased father, the great samurai warrior Hanzo, battling monsters.  These aren't just ordinary stories though because he tells them accompanied by his playing a shamisen (a Japanese three-stringed guitar) and the music from the instrument transforms pieces of paper into magical figures that act out his tales for the audience.  These sequences of the movie are incredible with my son and I agreeing they were the highlight of the film for both of us.  These enchanted origami really come to life on the screen and provide for a magical movie watching experience.  They are one of the most creative and enjoyable aspects to a movie that I've honestly seen in awhile.

Kubo and the Two Strings isn't all bright and cheery though.  It turns out that the Moon King, a mystical deity type being, was threatened by Hanzo's power and sent one of his daughters to kill the samurai.  Instead of murdering him, she fell in love with Hanzo, married him and gave birth to his son, Kubo.  Outraged that his grandchild would live in a world filled with the images of mankind, the Moon King attempted to blind Kubo ripping out one of the baby's eyes.  Hanzo stopped the Moon King from taking the other eye while his wife and son got away.  Unfortunately it seemed Hanzo sacrificed his life so his family could get to safety.

Using the last of her magic to escape, Kubo's mother began to loose touch with reality as they hid from her father in a cave.  The Moon King and her two witch sisters were on the lookout for them but they could only traverse the Earth during the darkness of night.  So Kubo most always return to the cave by dark.  One night Kubo doesn't get back in time and is confronted by his mother's very scary sisters.  Just as they are about to rip out his other eye, Kubo's mother intervenes using the last of her magic to rescue the boy by transporting him far away.  Awakening in a foreign land he is joined by a talking monkey and cursed beetle in setting off on an adventure to find a legendary suit of armor, helmet, and sword that Kubo can use to defeat the Moon King so as to live the rest of his life in peace.

Kubo and the Two Strings is rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril.  While this film is meant to be a family movie the sister witches are particularly scary and I found my seven year old clutching my arm during the several scenes they were in.  The plot involving evil, murderous family members attempting to kill Kubo's parents and steal his eyes could be disturbing for some children.  There is also scary creatures such as a giant skeleton monster and the moon beast which could be terrifying to young children. Kubo wearing an eye patch throughout the movie could be offsetting for some kids too though it could also be motivating that a child with a disability is portrayed as the hero of a movie for others. Primary characters die in the movie and the film doesn't conclude with a stereotypical movie happy ending.  Parental guidance in evaluating how well a child can tolerate scary scenes, violent behavior, and the topic of death would be highly recommended for children under eight years old.  I didn't notice any foul language, alcohol or drug use, or sexual content that would make parents wary of taking a child to see Kubo and the Two Strings.

The originality and creativity of Kubo and the Two Strings make it a wonderful selection for an outing to the movie theater.  For those who appreciate things that are out of the ordinary Kubo and the Two Strings is a must-see movie.  It's artistic achievements make a ticket to Kubo and the Two Strings well worth the price of admission.  For more information about the movie, visit

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