Familial love which offers the powers of healing and memory forms the basis of Travis Knight’s Kubo and the Two Strings, a combination stop motion-CG animated fable that’s always beautiful to look at, often exciting to experience, but occasionally frustrating in the narrative department.
The Production: 3.5/5
Familial love which offers the powers of healing and memory forms the basis of Travis Knight’s Kubo and the Two Strings, a combination stop motion-CG animated fable that’s always beautiful to look at, often exciting to experience, but occasionally frustrating in the narrative department. Top flight international voice actors bring these Japanese characters to life, and the animation effects offer breathtaking visuals to go along with the engaging but sometimes clunky storytelling.
One-eyed Kubo (Art Parkinson) is warned by evil spirits of his aunts (Rooney Mara) that his grandfather known as the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) will be seeking him out to claim his remaining eye effectively killing him in the process. Kubo and his ailing mother (Charlize Theron) are barely scratching out a living with the magical boy being able to tell stories to the villagers using his gifts with origami animals, but as she gives her last ounce of strength in fighting off her evil sisters’ spirits, she imbues a monkey charm of Kubo’s with her essence as he goes in search of an invincible sword, some golden armor, and an impenetrable helmet which can help him defeat his enemy. Along the way, Kubo and Monkey are joined by the friendly, gregarious Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) as they face a series of dangers as the Moon King comes ever closer to their final showdown.
Screenwriters Marc Haimes and Chris Butler follow the tradition of other stop motion animation efforts from this studio Laika (Coraline, ParaNorman, The Box Trolls) in that exposition is splintered throughout the movie rather than coming entirely at the beginning and that the movie deals with dark events and often troubling moods. The series of fight scenes throughout the film (the mother against her two vicious sisters, the trio against a gigantic skeleton, the undersea “Garden of Eyes,” and the ultimate showdown with the Moon King who by this time has become the Moon Beast) all involve real loss and often depressing, discouraging failures. While the protagonist’s never-say-die attitude is appropriate and effective for this typical quest story, the ending does seem just a bit of a letdown compared to what has come before, and the film’s theme that it’s memories of one’s family that are the real magic seems a bit simplistic. Until then, however, viewers can bask in some of the astounding stop motion animation on display. Kubo’s magical tale in the early portion of the movie with his origami figures is magnificently composed (a sequence with a chicken on the loose spewing red and yellow confetti is just terrific), and later on some origami birds circle, dip, and swoop around and through the frame in breathtaking fashion, and the entire journey at sea in a ship made of leaves is continually fascinating. The Monkey and Beetle characters are also so complexly constructed and superbly brought to life that they mesmerize just visually, apart from the engaging voice actors who inhabit them.
Young Art Parkinson is fully engaging and involving as the earnest and plucky young Kubo. Always ready for adventure and never backing down from a fight, Parkinson infuses his character with the eternally youthful zest and fire. Charlize Theron gets to show motherly concern and firm parental control as Monkey, a role which allows her to display many emotional colors slowly as the picture runs. Matthew McConaughey is delightfully air-headed and loyal as the simple-minded Beetle while Ralph Fiennes turns his grandfatherly Moon King from genial authority to full-on Voldemort mode once he morphs into the Moon Beast. Matching him in sinister power is Rooney Mara’s dual role as the sisters. Brenda Vaccaro steals all her scenes as Kubo’s town friend Kameyo who offers grandmotherly support and concern from the sidelines. George Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa give life to some other town elders.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and is offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Sharpness is outstanding throughout, and facial details like scars and the hair textures built into the stop-motion models are all easy to observe. Color is rich but always under controlled with no blooming of hues even with the predomination of oranges and golds. No banding appeared in the presentation at all. Contrast has been superbly applied for consistency throughout. The movie has been divided into 20 chapters.
The movie was presented in theaters in 3D, and there is a 3D Blu-ray combo set available for purchase.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix might not have quite the firepower of some of the Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks animated titles, but there will likely be few complaints with what’s here. Dialogue has been masterfully recorded and has been placed in the center channel. Dario Marianelli’s score offers wonderful Japanese influences in the music (Kubo’s magical instrument which can make his paper take on any shapes he needs is the shamisen, a stringed instrument which is used as the jumping off point for much of the score), and atmospheric effects surround the listener often making him a part of the action.
Special Features: 3.5/5
Audio Commentary: director Travis Knight speaks intelligently without meandering about his film and acknowledges all of the cast and crew that helped it achieve his vision of the project.
Kubo’s Journey (28:34, HD): a six-part look at the various facets of the production that came together to make the finished film. Speaking are director Travis Knight, producer Arianne Sutner, production designer Nelson Lowry, costume designer Deborah Cook, writer Marc Haimes, art director Alice Byrd, and actors Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, George Takei, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, among many others.
Corners of the Earth (3:12, HD): a promotional featurette featuring director Travis Knight, production designer Nelson Lowry, art director Alice Byrd, and others discussing the eighty sets used in the production.
The Myth of Kubo (2:33, HD): director Travis Knight, producer Arianne Sutner, writer Chris Butler, and actor Charlize Theron discuss the central narrative at the heart of the story.
DVD/Digital Copy/Ultraviolet: disc and code sheet enclosed in the case.
An entertaining magical fable that doesn’t talk down to its audience and offers some of the darker sides of life along with the more uplifting ones, Kubo and the Two Threads is one of the year’s most well-reviewed films. The Blu-ray release offers beautiful picture and sound (and the 3D would likely be stunning since stop motion animation usually translates very well to the medium) for those who want something a bit less cute and something somewhat more introspective in their animated fare.