Film Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

by Chad Liffmann on August 19, 2016

‘Kubo’ is a visual masterpiece!

Beetle, Kubo, and Monkey looking high...

Beetle, Kubo, and Monkey looking high…

I’ve never seen stop-motion animation as inventively crafted or as embedded in the storytelling as I saw in Kubo and the Two Strings. Laika, the animation studio behind Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls, releases their most ambitious film yet with Kubo. Part parable and part fantasy epic, Kubo has a bit of everything, and though it gets a little over-indulgent in the final ten minutes, the film never feels overcrowded. Credit is due to first time director Travis Knight (son of Phil Knight, of Nike), who does a solid job of executing on an intelligent script by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler. The filmmakers infuse Kubo with unique action sequences, family-friendly humor, some nightmarish chills, and strong emotional themes. When these aspects are woven together with solid voice acting and stunning visuals, Kubo becomes a memorable cinematic tapestry.

Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy with magical powers in Ancient Japan, who taking care of his sick mother outside of a small village. Kubo is able to manipulate paper by strumming on his shamisen (a traditional three-string lute), turning sheets into origami manifestations of his own design. When powerful forces tied to Kubo’s own family history arise and seek a personal vendetta, Kubo must collect three pieces of armor to ward away the evil chasing him. Aiding Kubo in his dangerous journey are Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey).

The disguised complexities and unfolding realizations of Kubo‘s characters, which reveal themselves while the characters travel through gorgeous and haunting landscapes, is quite reminiscent of 1998’s What Dreams May Come. Kubo even has many themes in common with the fantasy-drama starring the late Robin Williams. Kubo explores the influence that families have in shaping the memories and impacts we make on the world which have the power to transcend death, both negatively and positively. These themes are visualized and choreographed with stunning beauty — from the origami creatures orchestrated by Kubo as he tells tales of his legendary warrior father, to the magical luminescence of the monsters and spirits that come to play major roles in the narrative. The animators have constructed each shot to make full use of every inch of screen. It would take numerous viewings just to come close to fully appreciating the immense amounts of work that went into the design and filming of Kubo and the Two Strings.

As you can tell, it’s hard to accurately capture how impressive the visuals are, or at least, not in the confines of this review. You have to see Kubo to believe it. When the film first begins, Kubo tells us “If you must blink, do it now.” I won’t spoil what comes after, but it’s mesmerizing and rewarding on both an entertaining level, a familial level, and maybe even a spiritual level, so I highly recommend you abide.


Kubo and the Two Strings opens in theaters Friday, August 19th.


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