Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

PG, 101 minutes, Fantasy

Staring: Art ParkinsonCharlize TheronMatthew McConaughey

Let be known that ANY movie I review with stop-motion animation will ultimately be ranked higher than most other films simply because of the painstakingly colossal effort that goes into making each and every frame. Spending an entire 12-hour work day to come up with only forty seconds of usable screen time takes more patience than I can ever hope to muster. That being said, I’m bound to find some real stinkers in the future…

Kubo isn’t one of them. It’s a tale about a boy who has three strings… Yeah, I don’t get the title either, but I’ll come back to that. At Kubo’s birth his grandfather steals one of the infant’s eyes causing his mother flee into hiding with him. As Kubo grows, he begins to utilize a magical ability that brings life to paper via a shamisen. Eventually Kubo accidentally reveals himself to his sinister aunts which forces him to embark on a tragic journey of retribution.

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Smoking is bad, kids. And so are villains.

Let me just start by saying that any flaw this movie possesses is far overshadowed by the amazing style it presents. It comes off to me as a European film trying to create a Japanese story.  I’m an American and this movie feels totally foreign to me despite the fact that it isn’t. Every model appears to inhabit an individual reality full of gritty, detailed depth. Simply watching an eye move is a showcase of the animator skill that far exceeds the silly warping animation of today’s cartoons. I might just fangasm…

The story itself is a little rough in patches. I honestly don’t understand the whole “two strings” bit. At one point it seems to make sense… until Kubo gets a third string. I don’t really want to go into detail as it might ruin the plot, but I honestly would have felt better about the whole ordeal if this movie had been titled “Kubo and the Three Strings.” Because there are three. Three strings. Not two.

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The fact that he isn’t constantly covered in paper cuts almost seems like an oversight.

As far as characters go, our main cast is small, but pretty great. Except Beetle. I couldn’t really feel out the character as the creators perhaps wanted me to and that’s probably because of the constant freaking whistle in McConaughey’s voice. While he does play his part in the story, I mostly found him an annoying and useless shield–fodder for the bad guys. But oh, the bad guys… Or gals rather. The twin aunts are menacing beyond words; mechanically haunting (yes, “mechanical” and not “maniacal”) and a devastating force that makes Kubo’s childhood a nightmare. They have to be watched in order to be fully appreciated.

It’s not a perfect movie, but it easily counts a great movie. Family friendly, yet dark enough to appeal to older audiences, Kubo at face value might be a story that’s already been told over and over again, but it’s presentation has few rivals.

Rating: Own it.

tl;dr
Watch: Dat stop-animation tho.
Don’t watch: If you grew up hating Gopher from Winnie the Pooh.

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