Weekly Review: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

When a vengeful spirit is summoned, young Kubo is forced to leave his home behind. Accompanied by Monkey, Beetle, and a magical instrument, Kubo must save himself from the ghosts of his past.

Kubo and the Two Strings is a 2016 animated feature from Laika, known for their previous three films The Boxtrolls, ParaNorman, and Coraline. It is the directorial debut of Travis Knight, an animator and producer at Laika Entertainment. The cast includes the talents of Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, and Rooney Mara, with guest roles played by George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro, and Minae Noji.

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 6.45.52 PM

Set in feudal Japan with Laika’s characteristic animation style, this film has a really great story. It’s not groundbreaking in any particular way, but it weaves a familiar tale in a way that is enjoyable for all ages. It’s got thrilling moments, heartwarming moments, funny moments, scary moments, sad moments. Really, anything I could have wanted from the story, I got from the story.

It’s format is very reminiscent of a sort of coming of age story mixed with martial arts or samurai teachings. This is why it seems so familiar. We’ve seen stories like this before. Kubo and the Two Strings manages to stand out above the rest though, at least from the animated releases that debuted around the same time.

I think this comes from a lot of things. For one, the animation is beautiful. It’s really dazzling in a way. The characteristic style of Laika’s films works well to illustrate this fantastic world where magic is flawlessly interwoven into every day life.

On top of that, the story is really mature. I was pleasantly surprised to see that this film doesn’t have a stereotypical Hollywood ending. A lot of times when this is said, that means that the particular movie ends in a sad or bad way for the main character, but that’s not really the case here. Kubo and the Two Strings has a happy ending. It’s just not what you would necessarily expect.

As of this point, I have kind of showered Kubo and the Two Strings with praise. I really did enjoy it. It’s one of my favorite films that I’ve seen recently. I did, however, have a bit of a complaint. If you read enough of my reviews, you may know where I’m about to go.

Since the film is set in feudal Japan with Japanese characters, I would have liked to see more Japanese actors in prominent roles. I will give the creators a bit of acknowledgement for hiring any Japanese actors at all (see the casting of George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, and Minae Noji), but the actual finished product of this casting is extremely minimal.

Essentially, they all play villagers who have maybe five lines and play no major part in the overall story. That’s a bit disappointing. I found it very disappointing. This would have been a great opportunity to have more Japanese actors involved. We’ve recently seen how Moana cast actors of Polynesian descent to give voice to a film that was Polynesian in nature. I wish that Kubo and the Two Strings would have gone down this road rather than the path that it ended up taking.

Despite that complaint, I will reiterate that I really enjoyed the story told through this film. It was a standout piece of the year for me, and I will continue to recommend it as an example of how to make a timeless narrative. It’s really quite good.

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