For their 10 year anniversary, they have released Kubo and the Two Strings, the story of a young man who lives a quiet life with this mother on a hillside. His mother spends her days in a catatonic state, and her nights telling stories she can’t quite remember. When Kubo (Art Parkinson) is out after dark one night, he is attacked, setting in motion a journey. Aided by Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), Kubo must go on a quest to find his father’s magical armour, the only thing that can protect him.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a challenging and ambitious film for the audience it’s aimed at. It relies on deep emotion, often conveyed without dialogue, to tell its story. There are multiple sections of the film with no dialogue, relying on the audience’s interest in the (sometimes mundane) action to propel the story forward. The action is filled with dazzling visuals accompanying a script filled with heart.
The central theme of Kubo is storytelling – what the story is, who is telling it, what our own stories mean to the trajectory of our lives. This is where Kubo lives and breathes. The film has less of the scary (sometimes campy) action and visuals of Coraline and ParaNorman, and more of the kind of story Pixar dominates the animation world with.
While not directly based on a specific source material, writers Marc Haimes and Chris Butler (ParaNorman) have attempted to create a mythology that closely resembles Japanese folk tales. Playing around in that world until they found a narrative that fits, making it feel uniquely Japanese and American at the same time.
Kubo is both an adult and a child, as many children are forced to be. The mixture of Art Parkinson’s youthful-old-soul voice brings Kubo to life perfectly. The addition of Charlize Theron as the overprotective Monkey builds a nearly perfect relationship between the two. Matthew McConaughey is nearly unrecognizable as Beetle, and the true humorous heart of the film.
Laika will always choose a resolution with heart over a resolution with punch, and sometimes that can leave the audience unsatisfied. Where typical animation provides a strong resolution, complete with firm comeuppances, director (and Laika CEO) Travis Knight has always erred on the side of a softer ending with fewer harsh punishments. Kubo is no different. The villain is never held to account, significant issues with Kubo’s family are never resolved, and we aren’t even given a glimpse of what his life might be life after the credit roll. Typical North American audiences might feel there has been no resolution, but let me assure you, there has.
Despite some minor flaws, Kubo and the Two Strings is a magical journey sure to delight young and old audiences alike. And it’s very likely to make you want to run out and learn origami.