Movie Review: Kubo and The Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings is an absorbing tale that offers honest lessons about grief and loss thanks to great voice acting and breathtaking stop motion animation,  but it gets distracted by its own technical wizardry and exhibits that even animated films is subjected to whitewashing.

Clever, kindhearted Kubo ekes out a humble living, telling fantastical stories to the people of his seaside town. But his relatively quiet existence is shattered when he accidentally summons a mythical spirit from his past which storms down from the heavens to enforce an age-old vendetta. Now on the run, Kubo joins forces with Monkey and Beetle and sets out on a thrilling quest to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known.

Despite the advancement of computer generated animation lead by Pixar, Laika proves that handcrafted animation is still powerful.

Kubo and the Two Strings is the latest work from the stop motion animation studio.

The fantasy adventure delivers mature themes through a whimsical story set in Japan. It boldly tackles un-fun topics that adults also struggle to deal with – grief and loss. Kubo is a shamisen playing storyteller during the day, then goes home to a mother who would have been diagnosed with dementia in real life.

The story is brought to life through a combination of 3D printing, stop motion and CGI. Paper is used as a motif throughout the movie – as a storytelling device through origami and a symbolism of how fragile yet transformative life can be in hands of those who shape it. Kubo’s street performances are as captivating for us as it is for the audiences in its world as mighty warrior Hanzo fights a giant paper chicken spewing confetti fire and firing egg cannons. Elsewhere the details show craftsmanship in characters such as individual hairs of Mr. Monkey, in expressions such as the funny Kameyo, and through meticulous application such as the fight between a giant skeleton with Kubo and co.

The characters are believable thanks to great voice acting. While all the actors are a perfect fit for their role, the casting is disappointingly whitewashed. The Japanese actors are relegated to token characters with a few lines, while the principal cast is dominated by Hollywood staples.

Despite the American voices, Kubo and the Two Strings still prove to be a captivating tale thanks to its technical feats. However, these elements leave little for the core of the movie.

The story is a typical quest with a convoluted back story and a passive lead character. There is little action adventure here and not enough fight scenes, as the movie focuses more on the melodrama that comes with its mature themes.

Nonetheless, Kubo and the Two Strings still prove to be a highly enjoyable animated film for the whole family that has heart-tugging compelling moments without being manipulative.The movie does not shy away from telling hard truths – the dissolution of families and the loss of a parent. The ending is bittersweet and hopeful.

Kubo and the Two Strings shows us the power of stories. More importantly, it teaches children that how we cherish the people we have lost keep their memories alive in our hearts.

My Rating: 8/10

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