Release Date: August 19, 2016
Directors: Travis Knight
Writer: Marc Haimes, Chris Butler, Shannon Tindle
Cast: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro, Rooney Mara, Matthew McConaughey, Meyrick Murphy, Minae Noji, Alpha Takahashi, Laura Miro, Ken Takemoto, Aaron Aoki, Luke Donaldson, Michael Sun Lee, Cary Y. Mizobe, Rachel Morihiro, Thomas Isao Morinaka
MPAA Rating: PG
Runtime: 101 minutes
Production Company: Laika Entertainment, Focus Features
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Family
Budget: $60,000,000 (estimated)
For those who can’t get enough action, adventure, and all things epic, on the surface Kubo and the Two Strings appears to be everything you’d asked for. Samurai slashing swords, magical powers, and spirited characters are the perfect mix for fantasy seeking film fans. Previously having worked on Paranorman, Coraline, and Boxtrolls in the animation department, first time director Travis Knight decides to take his skills to the next level. For the most part, you will receive fulfilling entertainment. Initially the story was engaging with strong characters to support it. The action was well placed, and I cared about the outcome. Though despite all the special effects, the great cast, and the bells and whistles, the structural foundation of the story didn’t have enough to bring it all home.
Kubo (Art Parkinson) is basically the man. He is a product of his environment in the best way possible. He loves and respects his mother dearly, but knows her troubled mind is doomed. What’s great about his character is he makes the best out of any given situation, even if he has to imagine it. When all hope seems lost he finds it. The amount of passion he emotes telling a story is inspiring. He’s the captain of the team, and one you wouldn’t mind following. Monkey (Charlize Theron) I respect even more. Her words are even more powerful, and she can back them up physically. She doesn’t waste any time, always getting straight to the point; which is necessary given the character’s journey. Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) was notable as well. While he was brave and possessed the right attitude, his involvement wasn’t all that necessary in the end.
The effects popped on the screen in all the right moments. Much credit is due to the animation team behind the stop animation involved in the making of this film. Personally, I love origami, and using that as a tool to craft the storytelling was a great choice visually, though not so much narratively. The film’s story is being told by the main character as he’s living it. It can be described as a dream sequence or an alternate reality of sorts. The action was swift and well detailed when good vs. evil was throwing down, and I found myself smiling during their high points. It was a surprise to see so much tension in every attack that was thrown at an opponent. The score was a pleasant one, and the magic was eye candy when the power was winding up. Though with all the positive aspects just mentioned, there’s no weight to hold it together.
The reason is, while the visuals helped tell the story (especially with the origami magic), it was difficult to tell what was real and what wasn’t. Whether what was on screen was a metaphor or an event that was actually taking place was unclear. By doing this, they watered down the overall story and why the mission was necessary in the first place. As layers are pulled back, certain plot points start to unravel. The motivation behind the adventure itself could be to bring out the best in young Kubo, but he’s already a strong character. The strings that tied the characters from the past and present are weak, and the dialogue kept promising you answers about what got you to this certain point, but when it comes to fruition there’s no point. The story isn’t there to suggest such drama, and while the action is dazzling it still has no stakes.
When so much rhetoric is being thrown at the screen, a valid reason would be appreciated; not total destruction over family drama and feelings being hurt. In some ways it could be warranted, but here it wasn’t. With all the magic, strength, and might, Kubo’s doing it all for nothing and never feels like he’s in real danger. Even when the film tries to sell it that way, you know he’ll be ok. For such a great achievement, technically it’s wasted on a character that only has to believe in himself and at all the convenient times has enough to imagine whatever he wants to defeat the enemy.