[Film Review] Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

Kubo and the Two Strings poster

Title: Kubo and the Two Strings
Year: 2016
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Fantasy
Director: Travis Knight
Marc Haimes
Chris Butler
Shannon Tindle
Music: Dario Marianelli
Cinematography: Frank Passingham
Voice Cast:
Art Parkinson
Charlize Theron
Matthew McConaughey
Rooney Mara
Ralph Fiennes
Brenda Vaccaro
George Takei
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Rating: 7.7/10

Kubo and the Two Strings 2016

A stop-motion animation from Laika studios, their 4th film (started with an unconventional oddity CORALINE 2009), KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS is the director debut of Laika’s CEO Travis Knight, a metaphorical fairytale taps into the Japanese culture and engages a Westernalized appropriation in its character development, yet the combination might seems too unorthodox to its potential demography, which may explain its shortfall in its box office receipts.

First and foremost, the film is a sturdy testimony that stop-motion method has officially been on a par with CGI animation if not exceeding the latter in its all technicality, which is a great news since diversity should be embraced in very aspects of our lives, it is so bracing to know that we have multiple options to create animated fantasies, being hooked up in front of a computer screen is one way, and making models and props, then photographing them in small increments can achieve the same effect.

The storyline has a coherent oriental philosophy as its undertow, Kubo (Parkinson), an one-eyed mongrel child borne out of a forbidden union of his heavenly mother and earthing father (a tale similar to the Chinese folklore LOTUS LANTERN), has to embark on a journey to looking for three pieces of his father’s armor, after both parents die protecting him from the claws of his evil grandfather Moon King (Fiennes), en route, he is shepherded by his surrogate parents, a charm-turned-monkey (Theron) and an amnesiac samurai cursed into the body of a beetle (McConaughey), yes, don’t ask how and why, it is a realm of magic and occult, just surrender to it, as in Kubo’s kaleidoscopic origami superpower.

Strikingly impressive set pieces come consecutively, the animatronics behind a skill giant is especially enthralling, and the three-step quest ends in a poignant note where Kubo unites with his parents only to lose both afterwards, follows by the showdown which discards the golden armor and sharp sword, instead, an aggregate power of a nuclear family, which refers to its title Kubo and the two strings (each is snatched from one of his parents), can trump the almighty inhuman sovereign, and finishes the story with a kid-glove treatment that humanity prevails immortality.

There are massively appealing sequences with its quaint and beguiling aesthetics, a refreshing tack which strongly distinguishes the film from other Hollywood commodities, but one might find the juxtaposition not so organic, especially to those who has an oriental background, because the main characters are designed according to an American frame-of-mind, e.g. the over-familiar trope of an over-protective mother-figure bickering with a free-wheeling father archetype, it adds some comic relief, but also belies the story’s Japanese background and betrays a commercial-oriented sense of not alienating its core audience, which, as a matter of fact, doesn’t work very well because overall, the style is not congruous enough to achieve a required catharsis.

“You are my quest” is the tenet of this masterful stop-motion feature, we are encouraged to embrace the challenge of a journey but not solely dwells on its destination or outcome, more importantly it is the journey, the quest itself, that really matters to the formation of our own personality, that’s rather neat, only next time, the honcho of Laika must secure a more balanced tonality before green-light a project, otherwise, it will continue its hapless streak as a top-drawer white elephant which a substantial monetary gain often ruefully eludes.

Oscar 2016  Kubo and the Two Strings


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