Film Review: Kubo and the Two Strings (dir by Travis Knight)


How is it that, this weekend, so much hype is being given to War Dogs and Ben-Hur — two films that you knew weren’t going to be any good from the minute you first saw their trailers — while one of the best films of the year is running the risk of being overlooked?

I just got back from seeing Kubo and The Two Strings and I am insisting that, if you haven’t already, you go out and see it right now.  If you’re busy today, I understand.  See it on Sunday.  You can even see it on Monday if you have to.  But the important thing is that you see it soon.  For the most part, 2016 in cinema has almost been as bad as 2016 in politics.  The year has been dominated by big spectacles, the majority of which do not even attempt to create any sort of emotional connection with the audience.  Don’t get me wrong — there have been some good films but not hardly enough.  Fortunately, Kubo and the Two Strings is the type of film that, if people actually go and see it, can help to redeem an entire year.

In short, I want to wake up on Monday and I want to read that Kubo and The Two Strings won the weekend.  Make it happen!

Kubo and The Two Strings is an animated film and yes, you need to see it in a theater and yes, you need to see it in 3D.  It’s one of the most visually stunning films that I’ve seen this year and, even better, it’s a film that actually has a heart.  When I watched Kubo and The Two Strings, I found myself both laughing and crying and feeling a renewed excitement about the potential of cinema.

Somewhat appropriately, this magical film is about magic, not just spell-casting magic but also the magic that we all have within our soul and locked away in our memories.  Taking place in ancient Japan, it tells the story of Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson), a one-eyed child who lives in a cave with his sickly mother.  Most of the time, his mother is so out-of-it that she can only sit at the cave entrance and stare out at the distant ocean.  But occasionally, she is lucid enough that she remembers her past and she tells stories about how Kubo’s father was a mighty warrior who battled monsters and went on heroic quests.  She also remembers that Kubo’s grandfather is an evil demon, who is searching for his grandson and who hopes to take away his other eye.

Kubo supports his mother by going into a nearby village and, through the use of origami, magic, and music, telling stories to the townspeople.  His mother always warns Kubo not to say out after sunset.  Inevitably, however, Kubo does just that and soon, his demonic aunts appear in the village.  (The aunts, who are voiced by Rooney Mara, are truly scary.)  The village is destroyed and Kubo’s mother sacrifices her life to save him.

This, of course, all leads to Kubo going on a quest of his own.  He has to find his father’s armor so that he can defeat his grandfather.  Helping him in his quest is Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey, providing comic relief to an occasionally grim film).  But really, the quest is less about finding the armor and more about Kubo both growing up and coming to terms with the loss of his parents.  Yes, Kubo and The Two Strings may be an animated film and it may be a fantasy and it may feature bits of comedy but it’s a film that inspires very real emotions.  It’s a film that made me cry and it earned every single tear.

(Seriously, I dare you to watch the final five minutes of Kubo and The Two Strings without tearing up.)

Visually, this is an amazing film.  The images are often beautiful, sometimes frightening, and occasionally awe-inspiring.  Kubo’s aunts are pure nightmare fuel and his confrontation with his grandfather (voice by Ralph Fiennes) is magical in more ways than one.  Even beyond that, Kubo and the Two Strings creates a world that feels as real as our own.  It not only visualizes and celebrates film magic but also real-life magic as well.

Kubo and the Two Strings is a great and magical film and it’s one of the best of the year so far.  If you haven’t seen it, go out and see it.  If you’ve already seen it, go see it again.  Don’t wait for it to come out on Blu-ray.  Don’t say, “I’ll see it on cable.”  Don’t wait for Netflix.  See it on a big screen and see it now.

Seriously, don’t miss your chance to experience this movie the way it was meant to be experienced!