With escapades nearly as captivating as the stop-motion animation, this simple story of adventure and familial love gets 4.5 out of 5 stars.
In a majestic Japanese world of spirits and monsters, the young son of a great fallen warrior must take up his father’s Samurai mantle. One-eyed Kubo (Art Parkinson) lives at the top of a rocky island caring for his mother, who grows ever distant as the memories of her slain husband and vengeful family grow too much for her to bear. Kubo spends his days playing an enchanted shamisen and telling stories for the local villagers. But one night, as he tries to reconcile with the spirit of the father he never knew, Kubo is attacked by powerful, vengeful creatures from his mother's past. Aided by Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), Kubo must search for a set of ancient armor - the only thing strong enough to protect him from those who wish him harm.
This may be the most visually stunning film of 2016 so far. The medium of stop-motion is always a treat, for its arduous process makes it relatively rare (also see this month’s Netflix release The Little Prince!). And with the addition of careful direction (Travis Knight) and masterful cinematography (Frank Passingham) Kubo and the Two Strings is nearly hypnotic with visual wonder.
The film is also boldly content to be both a little dark and a little mysterious, both of which make it stronger than the average kids movie. Kubo deals in difficult themes such as loneliness, death and violent familial fractures, and instead of laboring over explanations of the film's supernatural elements, the filmmakers simply present us with a world more magical than we are used to, leaving it to our own wits and imagination to keep up.
The dialog-heavy scenes between Monkey, Beetle and Kubo are not always as engaging or drawing as they could be, and McConaughey as comic relief does feel a little too familiar at times. Still, even when the notes aren't quite on pitch, it's hard to look away.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
The religious atmosphere of the film is one of ancestor reverence, including families who speak/pray to their relatives who have passed away. There are powerful demi-godlike creatures who interact with humans (Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara). Characters discuss the idea that the real self is one's spirit, which can sometimes get trapped inside a broken body. Another moment shows us that memories are the most powerful kind of magic. Above all, the story upholds the power of love between parents and children, husband and wife, and even of our larger communities.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril
- Language/Profanity: None.
- Sexuality/Nudity: None.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: Several scenes of action/peril, including battles with swords where blood is drawn (only minimal blood is shown). Several frightening monsters are seen and battled, but scenes don't progress to be too graphic, violent, or frightening.
Drugs/Alcohol: A ghostlike woman is shown with a pipe in her mouth.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Parents and children, artists, lovers of beauty, movie nerds, those interested in Japanese culture, and folks who enjoy adventurous video games like The Legend of Zelda.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Those uncomfortable with eastern magic/mysticism, or who dislike stop-motion animation.
Kubo and the Two Strings, directed by Travis Knight, opened in theaters August 19, 2016; available for home viewing November 22, 2016. It runs 101 minutes and stars Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, George Takei, Ralph Fiennes, and Rooney Mara. Watch the trailer for Kubo and the Two Strings here.
Debbie Holloway is a storyteller, creator, critic and advocate having adventures in Brooklyn, New York.
Publication date: August 19, 2016