The Hippo


May 30, 2020








Kubo and the two strings

Kubo and the Two Strings (PG)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

 A boy goes on an adventure with a monkey, a beetle and a family legacy of powerful magic in Kubo and the Two Strings, a beautiful stop-motion animation film from Laika, the studio behind Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls.

It was a difficult start to life for young Kubo. We first see infant Kubo and his mother washed ashore after a violent storm. Kubo is missing an eye, stolen by his grandfather. Years later, 11-ish-year-old Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson, the kid from Game of Thrones we were all yelling “serpentine! serpentine!” at a few months back) lives in a cozy cave in the mountain above the beach where he and his mother first washed up. Kubo still has his mother, but she is getting weaker, able to tell him stories about his brave father, Hanzo, but then frequently lost in a haze. 
Telling stories is something of a family tradition; Kubo earns money for himself and his mother by telling fantastic stories in the nearby town square of brave warriors and terrible foes. He tells them by playing a guitar while he talks and a pile of paper origamis itself into the warrior or a fire-breathing chicken (a foe he throws in because a friend tells him to mix in a bit of comedy). The stories gain huge audiences who are left begging for the conclusion when he has to stop his stories to run home before dark. It’s one of his mother’s rules and on the day he breaks it we find out why: when he’s under a night sky, his witchy aunts (Rooney Mara) and his evil grandfather (Ralph Fiennes), the Moon King, can find him and will come for his other eye.
When the witches appear, Kubo is able to just make it away — but he does so alone. When he wakes up, in a strange snowy land, he’s joined by Monkey (Charlize Theron), who is a product of his mother’s magic and is sent to protect him. She joins him on a quest to find a magical sword, armor and helmet that will protect him from the Moon King. Kubo’s magic grows stronger and allows him to create things like a boat, to help them cross a large body of water. A dream where he wishes for his father also creates a tiny, sentient origami version of him, little Hanzo, who points the way forward. And, as they journey, Kubo and Monkey also meet Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a large samurai-sized beetle, or beetle-shaped samurai. Beetle has lost his memory but believes Hanzo was once his master and as such he pledges to help young Kubo.
So you’ve got your quest story — and it’s a good one, with a young boy looking for his place in the world and missing his family but surrounded by friends. Moments of sadness, bravery, joy, all that. And there’s good voice work — even the famous voices of McConaughey and Theron don’t get in the way of their characters. All around an above average children’s tale, probably for older kids (8 or 9 and up? what with the dead parent, terrifying villains and missing eye and all). 
And then there’s the visual component, which is awe-inspiring.
Origami creatures and things created by paper play a big role in this story. In a world where things look real but still fantastical the paper stands out as papery, thin but with the grainy, fabricy look of paper, while still fitting with the storybook look of the overall environment. Watching the paper fold itself into a chicken or a warrior or a Moon King is a small detail but a delightful one. So too is the quality of Kubo’s hair and the way it flops over his eye patch. The fur on the monkey and the way small changes in her face denote emotion are fascinating, and the beetle-y aspects of Beetle are well used, often for comic effect. (He is the dash of humor that Kubo’s village friend suggested.) The particular creepiness of the witches, the way landscapes can look lonesome or smaller settings can seem warm and cozy — the way the people and scenes are built here are not just lovely but keep you pulled into the story. “If you must blink, do it now,” Kubo says before he tells his stories — it’s an instruction to the audience as well, blink and you’ll miss the beautifully rendered details of this animated movie so unlike the bright cartoons we’re used to. I remember having that same “walking around a story book” feeling with The Boxtrolls too. It’s like a collection of exquisite paintings where every element is there not just to look good but to fill in the story you’re seeing.
Kubo and the Two Strings is not an all-ages animated tale; there really are some dark and scary moments both visually and thematically. But for kids who are old enough, it’s a fun adventure, wonderfully told. A
Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril. Directed by Travis Knight with a screenplay by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler and a story by Shannon Tindle and Marc Haimes, Kubo and the Two Strings is an hour and 41 minutes long and distributed by Focus Features.

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