As far as movies go, it’s been a weak summer. Reboots and sequels of questionable quality or demand. Lackluster blockbusters. All kinds of stuff that has left audiences feeling disappointed when they don’t bother to just stay home. There was no huge, Mad Max style unexpected hit this year.
August, traditionally a weak time for quality film, seems to be working to make up for the weaker releases of the two or three months previous. I managed to see two high quality films over the weekend. I’ll have a review for the other one tomorrow, but here we have the excellent animated feature Kubo and the Two Strings.
The story opens with Kubo acting as a narrator, telling the audience not to blink or they will miss something important, and not to fidget. That has to be an awesome way to open a family film given the age of some of the audience.
We soon learn that Kubo (Art Parkinson, Game of Thrones‘ Rickon Stark) lives in a cave overlooking a small village on an island somewhere in the middle of nowhere. He lives with his mother, a woman slipping in and out of catatonia. Every day, Kubo goes down to the village to entertain the villagers with his shamisen. He uses the instrument to enchant pieces of paper into magical origami that allows Kubo to tell stories of the great warrior Hanzo and his battle against the evil Moon King.
Kubo always has to be home by dark. He has to stay out of sight during the night. See, Hanzo was his father, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) is his maternal grandfather, and he has two aunts (both voiced by Rooney Mara) who would be more than glad to finish the job Grampa Moony started when he took one of Kubo’s eyes while Kubo was still a baby.
Of course, the rules of drama insist that Kubo doesn’t get home in time, and the aunts show up to take him. His mother manages to rouse herself enough to defy her sisters magically one last time, and Kubo is on a quest to find the armor that can give him a fighting chance against the Moon King. His first companion is Monkey (Charlize Theron), a charm brought to life by his mother before she disappeared in a mystic explosion. There’s also a silent, origami samurai, and then a larger samurai, Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), who has no memory of his time as a man and provides the movie with most of its humor.
This is a beautifully animated film in the stop motion style the animation studio Laika is known for. Kids may not appreciate the sheer beauty of the film, but parents sure will. Though Japanese in style, the movie is an original story, and a rather melancholy one, with a plot that doesn’t follow convention story tropes, and an underlying theme that suggests the real message may be to accept death as a natural part of life, and that no one’s story never ends. Powerful and beautiful at the same time, I am giving this one ten out of ten fire-breathing origami chickens.