PLEASE watch Kubo and the Two Strings. If you read only one sentence of this review, please let it be that one. This is one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve seen in a while, and it’s all achieved with stop-motion animation; every frame, every action, every creature, all made and moved by hand. I had to constantly remind myself that I was watching a stop-motion and not a fully digital animated movie. Yet, the most heart-breaking thing about this film is the lack of people coming out to cinemas to watch it.
Though honestly, this is probably the worst time to release a children’s film, especially one that tries to be different. Even if they went up against a juggernaut like Finding Dory, I feel like they still would see a higher profit than they are right now. And to me, that’s the most upsetting part; if this film doesn’t do well, then studios are going to be far less inclined to invest in kid films that aren’t the high-energy, celebrity-voiced, sugar filled rainbow rides that Hollywood is currently pumping out. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy these films – but I also want there to be a wider range of choice for young cinema-goers.
Kubo is directed by Travis Knight in his debut director role. You’re probably unfamiliar with him, but chances are you’ve seen his work – he’s one of the artists behind Coraline, The Box Trolls and Paranorman. Kubo is a great first film for Travis to have under his belt. The man is very talented and has a great eye for small details that makes the world seem more real. I can’t imagine the painstaking work that must go into animating just one of his scenes. Every set is imaginative, rich in detail and glorious to view. It’s worth going for the animation alone.
The weakest element in the film, however, is the story. This is not to say that the story fails or the writing is sloppy; there’s a solid script behind this movie but it unfortunately falls short of the high standard that the art design has set. It’s only within the second and third acts that these flaws begin to show, but the start of the film has an incredible set-up and does a great job of introducing our characters and the world they live in.
Kubo is centred around the adventure our protagonist must set out on whilst also being hunted by his grandfather the Moon King, and his two aunts. Accompanying him is Mr (Mrs) Monkey, a giant beetle and an origami samurai. Throughout the journey Kubo’s powers begin to grow, he has the ability to manipulate objects around him with a strum of his guitar, mostly used to create origami to tell stories, his abilities gain more use as he continues. Together, they must find the legendary armour that will protect Kubo from his grandfather.
This is the first big problem of the film. When you have a film so steeped in this kind of imagination and your quest is an object as blatant as armour, it really subtracts a lot of the creativity that was put in. It’s such a blatant MacGuffin that if you’ve a seen a film – any film – before this one, you already know how it’ll work out. When you have such an immersive world, why shoot for something so basic? It definitely comes across as something to do while we wait for the final encounter.
Another problem was the ‘reveal’ of the film, which hard to discuss without spoiling the film. Suffice to say, it would have been more impactful if they allowed speculation. There’s a sense that the entire third act was rushed so they could focus more on the final battle. Though an impressive climax, an extra five minutes to fix pacing issues wouldn’t have gone amiss. What’s worse is that the film had already demonstrated the importance of taking the time to let big events settle in, why is why it’s bizarre that they would be so casually brushed past at this critical point in the story. Though I can still forgive this from newcomer Marc Haimes.
But these are minor issues, ones I can easily forgive considering the amount of charm that this film contains. The relationships between the characters are bitter-sweet, which is where a lot of the humour comes from. While Beetle can be a little too ‘comedic relief-y’, it’s still difficult not to enjoy his character, and his arguments/compliments with Monkey becomes a favourite of the film. Ultimately, however, it’s Kubo who steals the show, the characterisation is perfect, they’ve managed to encapsulate his youthfulness whilst also demonstrating how he would’ve had to mature quickly due to looking after this mother.
The character designs are vivid, and matches their personality. From the monsters to the townsfolk, it really feels like a world come alive. Everyone does a great job on the voice acting, but that’s not surprising when you cast such a widely acknowledged and talented cast. Art Parkinson really got into the character, definitely an actor to keep an eye out for: You don’t get cast on Game of Thrones for nothing though.
I look forward to Knight’s next feature, but that unfortunately may take a while longer if audiences aren’t going.
Kubo and the Two Strings is in cinemas now.
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