Kubo is cinematic artistry

Kubo and the Two Strings 

“If you must blink, do it now!” young Kubo instructs an enchanted audience in the village. We are wise to heed his words because you don’t want to miss a single frame of this brilliant piece of cinematic artistry.

Not since Tim Burton’s masterpiece The Nightmare Before Christmas has there been a stop-motion animation film that has truly transcended the genre and brought the art form to a new level; Kubo and the Two Strings does just that.

Bravo first-time director Travis Knight. Well done!

Kubo, the fourth film created by Oregon’s Laika Studios (ParaNorman, Coraline, The Boxtrolls), is the longest stop-motion film ever made.

On average, it took a week to film 4.3 seconds on screen and took over five years to complete the movie.

The story begins with a daring ocean escape by Kubo’s mother during a terrible storm where waves rival those in The Perfect Storm.

She hits her head on a rock when their boat is capsized and barely has the strength to crawl over to her crying infant son on the beach where they have washed ashore.

Flash forward 11 years and young Kubo (Art Parkinson, Game of Thrones) is seen waking up in the cave he calls home, collecting his various pieces of origami paper, preparing a small breakfast, feeding his unresponsive mother and going into town to regale the villagers with his stories.

Kubo is an engaging storyteller and the villagers congregate to hear him tell tales of brave samurai heroes against evil demons and monster attacks. As Kubo deftly plays music on his three-stringed samisen, his origami papers form into the characters who enact the unfolding story.

As the sun begins to set, Kubo realizes he must return home before dark and abruptly ends his story and runs for home.

He prepares a simple meal for his mother and with the encroaching darkness, she seems to come to life — captivating him with her own stories of his fearless samurai father, Hanzo.

Kubo has only one eye; his other one was stolen by his grandfather, The Moon King, who wants to take his remaining eye and kill him as he did his father, Hanzo.

Kubo’s mother tells him that her evil twin sisters search for him each night and that he must never go outside lest they find him and kill him.

He swears to his mother that he will always come home before nightfall.

Given her almost catatonic state each morning, Kubo is not quite sure whether his mother is in her right mind or whether the stories she tells him are true or the ramblings of a failing mind.

The following day is a festival in his village that celebrates the dead. Wanting to connect with his deceased father, Kubo makes his own lantern to float down the river, but is disappointed when it does not light up with his father’s spirit.

Discouraged, he crumples it up and heads for home.

Unfortunately, it is now night and in the blink of an eye, two eerily calm mask-wearing witches (Rooney Mara – Carol, Her, The Social Network) slowly descend to finally catch Kubo.

With creepily cheerful voices, they tell him they have come to bring him home to his grandfather and his rightful family. He knows that his mother was telling the truth.

Terrified, Kubo fights back, but is no match for the magical witches who ensnare him.

All seems lost when Kubo’s mother appears. Using her last bit of magic, she creates an explosion that drives away the witches and sprouts wings on his father’s robe that he always wear – flying him away to safety.

When he awakes, he is surrounded by snow and is greeted by a surly Monkey (Charlize Theron) who, she informs him sullenly, is now his guardian. S

he tells him that his mother is gone and his village is burned. Monkey has been brought to life from the small talisman Kubo was required to carry in his pocket.

It is her job now to help protect him and defeat his grandfather.

In order to defeat the Moon King, Kubo must find three things: The Sword unbreakable, The Shield Impenetrable and the Helmet Invulnerable.

Kubo is not alone and from here on out, he and Monkey are joined by Hanzo (a small origami silent warrior) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a jovial, if forgetful, samurai who has been transformed into a human-sized insect.

The four characters embark on an epic quest to find the armour, battle many monsters and obstacles and bond while doing so. No spoilers here so you’ll have to go see the movie to find out how things end but suffice it to say, it’s not how you might expect.

Art Parkinson brings exactly the right blend of youthful enthusiasm and sage wisdom beyond his years to the role of the young hero, Kubo. He is a great storyteller who is brave and self-effacing.

Charlize Theron is surprisingly deadpan in her delivery as Monkey and garners more than a few really great laughs because of it.

Her no-nonsense character is a perfect balance to Beetle and because of her stoicism, when she reveals tenderness, it really means something.

Matthew McConaughey is goofy and endearing as the happy-go-lucky warrior beetle who believes he was a follower of Kubo’s hero father.

His sincerity is palpable in this role and he provides some wonderful light-hearted humour to an otherwise quite serious story.

Ralph Fiennes has a small, but important role as The Moon King and delivers just the right blend of patronizing concern and condescension to make him absolutely terrifying.

Despite its heavily Asian culturally influenced story and theme, the only Asian actors in the film play very small villager roles (George Takai notably delivering one of his famous “Oh My….s”.

Visually spectacular with a witty and intelligent script (Marc Haimes, Chris Butler, Shannon Tindle), Kubo is by no means a simple kid’s movie.

There are some beautiful set designs here that are the stuff dreams are made of.

The story is complex if a wee bit meandering and the ending is not something a Disney board would ever condone – making it a film that transcends the “kid zone” designation virtually all animated films are sequestered to.

Kubo And The Two Strings is a film you will want to see more than once. It is a labour of love that is one of the best films of the year so far – animated or not.

I give this film five big hearts


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About the Author

Kim Foreman-Rhindress is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and London Western Conservatory of music for piano and voice. 

Kim has been performing in theatre and film for over 30 years in Canada, NYC, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands. She has written several plays which have been produced in Canada and the U.S., and is the founder of Kelowna Voice Lab - helping people find their voice, be it singing or acting. 

A working musician, she performs regularly in Kelowna with her husband, Jim Rhindress, in an acoustic duo Smitten, and with her vintage trio Kitsch 'n Sync.  

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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