Kubo And The Two Strings broke the mould in actually making me want to go and see an animated movie on the big screen, and one that you’d think would normally be aimed at an audience of children. Before it were a number of trailers for forthcoming films which ARE all clearly aimed at children, and which look dull as ditchwater, such as Trolls, Storks and, worst of the lot, Sing – a film where awful CGI of animals is created to sync with standard pop songs. It looks written by committee and I saw no heart in it and it just looked like it was trying to rip-off Nick Park’s famous Creature Comforts animations in the late ’80s and early ’90s… all of which were done in stop-motion animation.
However, following Laika’s earlier stop-motion animation works – Coraline, Paranorman and The Boxtrolls, all of which I need to urgently catch up with – plus a story that treats audiences of all ages like they have the ability to think, this film turned out to be quite something.
Kubo (voiced by San Andreas‘ Art Parkinson) is a young boy, whose mother tells him great tales about his late father, Hanzo, a samurai warrior. These, he daily puts into practice, bringing them to life with music on his shamisen, a three-stringed, Japanese instrument similar to a guitar, and some incredibly stylish origami that no-one else will ever be able to recreate. In fact, the show is such a wonder that I started imagining what would be a suitable amount to tip him at the end. Alas, he somehow forgets to send a collection hat round and walks away with zero monetary reward for his troubles. Maybe they don’t spend money in ancient Japan?
While I made a number of notes while watching the film, I don’t want to mention many of these, let alone go into too much detail about how things pan out because I didn’t know myself, in advance, and it’s all best experienced for yourself, but a situation leads to a blizzard of snow, and Kubo waking up to being met with a monkey called Monkey (Charlize Theron), a beetle called Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) and his samurai warrior origami figure from earlier, leading them all to going on a fantastical journey with a number of monsters and bizarre situationsl. The ultimate aim was for Kubo to find his armour, but for what purpose? Well, watch the film to find out.
There are many jokes which raised a chuckle, sometimes straight-forward ones, but more usually ones with a dry twist to them – such as when Beetle put himself forward for a task. He proudly proclaimed, “Stealth is my middle name!”, to which Monkey sarcastically replied, “You don’t even have a first one(!)”, plus subtle nuances on all the key characters which won’t be fully picked up on by very young viewers, but then they can rewatch this many years from now and see the film in a brand new light.
My friend, Pete, who’d read a review about it being really emotional said for me to make sure it didn’t bring tears to my eyes… and, as I thought more about the film in the car on the way home, it did. There were elements of the film which just were rather there and gone while I watched them, but as the film settled in my mind… BANG! It all fused into my brain by osmosis.
There were a lot of kids in the screening, too, and it’s good to see them being taken to see something intelligent rather than Sing et al. However, about ten minutes in – after reading on the Odeon website that they allow parents to bring in young babies as long as, if the baby starts fussing, they respectively take them outside to calm down – I heard the shrill cry of a baby bawling its eyes out somewhere around the middle of the bulk of the audience. I immediately recalled what I’d read on the website, but after a moment I realised… it was Kubo from within his mother’s papoose! We hadn’t seen him until that point. Similarly, I later thought I heard other audience members talking loudly but… it was a crowd scene where Kubo performed his origami displays.
Kudos to the four members of staff who were about to clean up the auditorium (there had been a lot of kids in there, so a four-person team was clearly required), and who patiently waited until the very end of the credits before switching the cleaning lights on.
I know that is what’s expected of them, and that they’re not meant to switch them on while audience members are still watching the end credits – and I have been the first to state when I’ve experienced such an interruption, but credit where it’s due (especially during end credits), and especially for a film like this. It is, indeed, an emotional film, and one which left me thinking a lot about it as I drove home, but as the credits rolled, there was animation throughout, as well as a neat mid-credits sequence I’ll describe in a spoiler-headed bit below (well, less a spoiler, and more a reference to a character within the film – certainly not a plot spoiler), and all to the tune of a cover of George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps, performed by Regina Spektor.
And in its first week, some of the screenings are in screen 14 (certainly the 4.30pm one), and the screen is huge!!! Quite a spectacle and a treat to watch, and as it’s one of those auditoriums with a separate front and back section of seating, while most people gravitate towards the back section, I prefer to sit at the back of the front section, so it’s right in my face!
Overall, Kubo and the Two Strings is beautiful to watch and very sweet in its nature, along with some elements that will scare young children, and while I often wasn’t really sure what was going on, it was all quite brilliant. I’m actually tempted to see this again on the big screen, and in 3D, as I could see a number of elements from which it would benefit in that format. Given the exorbitant cost of 3D tickets, however, I think I’ll wait until the Blu-ray is released for that. And add to that, the need that it would have to be guaranteed that the end credits are not going to be interrupted in any way, so, exactly the same as I saw it this time.
Also available now are the CD soundtrack and a 3D Blu-ray boxset of Coraline, Paranorman and The Boxtrolls, and at the time of writing, it’s a mere £13! Lucky for everyone!
Running time: 101 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures Int (UK)
Cinema: Odeon, Trafford Centre
Released: September 9th 2016
Director: Travis Knight
Producers: Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner
Screenplay: Marc Haimes and Chris Butler (based on a story by Shannon Tindle and Marc Haimes)
Music: Dario Marianelli
Kubo: Art Parkinson
Monkey: Charlize Theron
Beetle: Matthew McConaughey
Moon King: Ralph Fiennes
Hosato: George Takei
Hashi: Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Kameyo: Brenda Vaccaro
The Sisters: Rooney Mara
Mari: Meyrick Murphy
Minae: Minae Noji
Aiko: Alpha Takahashi
Miho: Laura Miro
Ken: Ken Takemoto
Villagers: Aaron Aoki, Luke Donaldson, Michael Sun Lee, Cary Yoshio Mizobe, Rachel Morihiro, Thomas Isao Morinaka, Saemi Nakamura, Zachary Alexander Rice and Mariel Sheets
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.