Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation, Family.
Starring: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takai, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro, Meyrick Murphy, Minae Noji, Alpha Takahashi, Laura Miro, Ken Takemoto.
Year Of Release: 2016
Certificate: PG (UK)
Runtime: 102 Minutes
Director: Travis Knight
Synopsis: “A young boy named Kubo must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past.” IMDB
Disclaimer: I know nothing of the history of production company Laika or their film legacy, so this was a film that appealed to me as being a different style of animation and a quirky story from the trailers.
Ok, so while this film is visually impressive using stop-motion animation… which I still find hard to believe it’s stop-motion as it looks so damn gorgeous and fluid… the overall enjoyment and narrative connection I felt during it fizzled out a whole lot. Nothing felt consistent, and maybe it’s more of the covert cultural themes and tones woven into the story, but it certainly had me perplexed at times wondering just what was going on.
Our cast are all good and well to sell the film on big names, but they didn’t floor me as either memorable or very engaging with their characters. Young Art Parkinson stood about above everyone else as having some real depth and emotive passion as Kubo. Charlize Theron comes in close second as his Mother and also a talking Monkey with attitude, but the likes of Matt MaConaughey, Ralph Fiennes and Rooney Mara just…are there and didn’t really wow me. It’s a strange old story set in ancient Japan full of magic origami, bad-ass shamisen riffs and scary monsters. It looked to me like a Tim Burton-esque animation; trippy locations, dizzying visual action sequences and scary beasts whose eyes glow in the dark, or their screams echo across the landscape. For a family animated film, it’s got a pretty confusing message playing through it for young kids to grasp and understand; not even the talking Monkey or Beetle’s pratfalls make it particularly engaging.
And for a family film, there are some pretty dark moments too. A number of people both on and of screen, and you are always left with the clear message they HAVE died. Wounds are inflicted, beasts roar right up to the screen (not the fluffy sort of beasts either, but huge space slugs and skeletons), and death is always a factor here. It’s probably that Eastern culture that we Westerners try to gloss over a lot in our stories and culture. But when all the actors talk with their unmistakable Western accents – looking at you, MattMa – the effect of authenticity is lost.
This is going to be a winner for fans of Laika and Asian film I think, because I myself found it a pretty boring affair. As I said, it looks stunning; the textures, the colours, the landscapes, the attention to detail; it’s all there and it’s dreamy, easy on the eye and a wonderful style of animation used to bring this story of family to life. However, the story bored me because it was essentially using the same action set-pieces over and over again for each of the three magical pieces of armour Kubo must find for some reason to protect him.
That’s another thing; lots of ideas and plot points were brought up but lots had really fuzzy answers and resolutions. I still don’t know why the Sisters and Moon King actually wanted Kubo’s eye. I don’t get what the armour actually did in the end. I don’t get why the shamisen was magical. And I don’t get what the hell the “Two Strings” were in the title when I always counted three. These things just bugged me. Maybe they’re not important, but to me, I just wanted to understand a bit more. Best part of this 89min tale was the visuals taking us across mountains, under the sea, on top of the sea, inside caverns and in the peaceful countryside of Japan bathed in moonlight. But the other part I loved that came few and far between were the shamisen riffs Kubo plays now and then to bring his origami to life. That boy can play, and it was like a mini-rock riff whenever he pulled the bad boy out for some magic paper time.
Those moments were worth it. But nothing else about the film really was sadly.