IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 102 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In medieval Japan, young Kubo lives with his ill mother Sariatu in a cave on top of a mountain. Every day he goes to a nearby village to tell stories , primarily of a samurai warrior named Hanzo, who was Kubo’s dead father. He returns to his mother just before sunset so his evil aunts and his grandfather, the Moon King, can’t find him and take his remaining eye, as they took the other when he was a baby. One night he stays out in a failed attempt to communicate with dead relatives and is attacked by the sisters. His mother sends Kubo away by touching a beetle crest on his robe to give him wings, and tells him to find his father’s magic armour. He takes a piece of her hair before she is killed….
Being pressed for time, I wish that I hadn’t spent two hours reviewing Ben-Hur and had set aside more time to review this, but never mind. Kubo And The Two Strings is easily the best animated movie of the year, making the likes of Zootopia look bland and unimaginative by comparison. It’s a considerable achievement both technically and artistically, with simply astounding stop motion and breathtaking visuals that often feel that they’ve come from a dream, from a sea of huge glowing eyes to golden leaves forming to create a ship. The story is centred around mature themes of loss and grief and doesn’t feel the need to partly cloak them in constant slapstick like The Book Of Life did. In fact, much of the first section has quite a strong ominous tone, and the first appearance of the witches is really quite creepy. This is a supposedly kid-aimed film which has the boy hero in fear of being blinded by his grandfather. But I reckon today’s kids above 8, at least with parents, can probably take it [though, in another blow to originality, the film has flopped], and it means that, by the time we meet a talking monkey and a samurai beetle whose role initially just seems to be as light relief, not only has the film earned the right to lighten up, and it’s great that it now does, but the world it inhabits is so full of weird and wonderful things that it seems like a natural turn of events.
There’s plenty of action as Kubo’s quest unfolds, though some of the most wondrous moments are the simpler [though probably just as hard to create] ones, like an early scene when Kubo magically manipulates pieces of paper that form into origami that moves under music played from Kubo’s shamisen. It has a genuine sense of awe about it, and what’s also great is that the script doesn’t feel the need to explain all of the fantastical stuff that goes on. The plotting lets the side down in a few places, with characters being pointlessly resurrected only for them to be killed off again, and some rushing towards the end, while some of the dialogue sounds like it’s come straight from a fortune cookie factory. While Matthew McConaughey can never entirely hide his southern drawl, the voice cast members do their parts with near-perfection though, and Dario Marinelli’s East meets West score, his best in some time, is a considerable plus too. Overall this is another strong effort from Laika, easily making up for the slight disappointment of The Boxtrolls. At a time when so many movies of all sorts seem to be going for the easy option and pulling back on anything that even some may consider heavy, daring or dark, Laika, who perhaps now come across as being spiritually closer to Studio Ghibli than any American toon studio, have the courage and the integrity not to hold back, and to credit the people who are watching their films, especially the younger ones, with intelligence.