Movie Review: “Kubo and the Two Strings” – Don’t Blink

Written by Matt Butler August 25, 2016

kubo and the two strings

A triumphant hero for a triumphant story.

To be frank, the 2016 summer line-up has left me pretty dejected. The profit to quality ratio has gone completely out of whack, the only reputable summer blockbuster, Finding Dory, was over two months ago, and the stunning Kubo and the Two Strings is all but absent from the public eye. There’s good stuff out there you guys, you just gotta keep looking.

And once your eyes rest upon Kubo and the Two Strings, just try to look away. Try to blink. And realize that you cannot. Or at least, you should not. And what’s more, it’s a piece of absolute reverence for the art of storytelling, both in its subject matter and masterful execution.

kubo and the two strings

The eyes of a captive audience.

If you must blink, do it now.

It’s a story at once old and new. Kubo (Art Parkinson), an adventurer by nature, journeys far to forge the ancestral armour needed to conquer his vengeful grandfather (Ralph Fiennes). With the aid of a mothering monkey (Charlize Theron), a larger-than-life samurai beetle (Matthew McConaughey), and his trusty shamisen (his three-string lute), Kubo reaffirms within himself the sacred power of memories, and those he shares them with. It’s the Joseph Campbell ‘Hero’s Quest’ that we all know, revitalized by a compelling narrative structure. We’re used to the ‘Long ago in a land of mystery and legend’ openings. They outlay the mythic past that the hero will undoubtedly mimic in their own story. Kubo is no different, save for its omission of critical details. We’re continuously given new pieces to the puzzle, but seldom enough to confirm the scale of the puzzle. It’s a story that doles out information at a steady and intriguing pace, asking its audience for much-deserved patience.

kubo and the two strings

ROONEY MARA doubles as the venomous twin aunties, one of the film’s collection of compelling baddies.

It doesn’t take much time to realize how deserved that patience is either. Within the first five minutes, my eyes were already fixed and misty. Something about the mixing of the solemn mother/son relationship with the soulful score, I guess. These are the setups I can’t get enough of, the ones that seem to need the least. It’s one of the most striking powers of animation.

kubo and the two strings

CHARLIZE THERON (Monkey) and MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY (Beetle) double as surrogate parents for Kubo (ART PARKINSON) and comic foils for each other.

Pay careful attention to everything you see.

Though it’s not all emotional grenades. Kubo and the Two Strings is noticeably divided in its drama and comedy. Rarely does one occupy the same scene as the other, but never does one take up more space. It’s not even a matter of subversion, it’s just simple jollity matched with epic fantasy. It has just the right amount of modernity to balance with an otherworldly spiritual tone.

kubo and the two strings

Backdrops, one of many reasons to avoid blinking.

As I said, Kubo does require some patience. Its pacing lends far more to character study than adventure. This supports the build up, making every boss battle that much more staggering. They’re the type of gorgons that stomp through our most fantastical nightmares, something I’m convinced a 3D viewing will altogether accentuate.

kubo and the two strings

A startling reverence for its roots.

If you look away, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish.

What puzzled me partway through was the title. It’s called Kubo and the Two Strings, but his shamisen clearly has three. The climax is what brought full understanding to this curiosity, and a dazzling circularity to the film’s boundless reverence for family and the stories they share. It’s a reverence that the film wears on its sleeve. Kubo and the Two Strings deserves far more attention than it’s received so far. Loaded with passionate artistry (visually, musically and narratively), it deserves an immediate spot in 2016’s Best Animated Feature nominees, and already earns the spot of my favourite film of 2016 thus far. Here’s hoping the rest of the year keeps me nearly as optimistic.

My Rating: 9.5/10



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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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