By JENSEN LIM LEONG
Kubo and the Two Strings, directed by Travis Knight, is an animated film about a boy named Kubo, voiced by Art Parkinson, and his mother who flee from his aunts and grandfather after they killed his father and stole one of Kubo’s eyes. They live hidden for several years until Kubo accidentally causes his aunts to find him and kill his mother. The movie follows Kubo as he attempts to escape the hands of his aunts and grandfather attempting to take his remaining eye. Along his journey he is accompanied by a Monkey (Charlize Theron), a cautious and overprotective guardian and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a charming, forgetful, and reckless companion.
One stand-out quality is that major characters actually die in the movie, which is a breath of fresh air for a children’s animated film. The film is also able to shift from lighthearted to dark ominous tones without being jarring. Unfortunately, Kubo’s villains are underdeveloped and very one-dimensional with the sole goal of finding Kubo. Although underwhelming, they have excellent designs. All of the background characters have very detailed looks and each one feels unique. Kubo’s aunts have dark featherlike costumes and hats that really make them look like crows, along with blank masks and clawlike chains that complete their appearance.
These characters traverse many locations in what appears to be Japan, and each set is very well-animated. Unlike traditional 2-D animation, the environmental setting of this movie is evocative of a genuine rendering of the set. Snow and water have incredibly detailed textures and caves within the film have an ominous feel unmatched by any other animation style.
“I just love everything that’s involved in bringing it to life. Then when you see it on screen, it really is insane. You really feel the sense of scale, because it really is like a living set,” said director Travis Knight in an interview for Film Blogging the Reel World, a film blog. This blending of animation allows for certain elements of the film to shine. At the start of the film Kubo’s mother has to go through crashing waves and the water looks spectacular, lifelike and polished. The animation of Kubo and the Two Strings is fluid without any discernable gaps and looks better than other past stop animations such as Box Trolls or Frankenweenie.
The themes of the film are cliche, such as “Family will always be there for each other,” but they are not too repetitive or overwhelming in a manner that feels nauseating. In fact, the themes tug at the multifaceted emotions throughout the film and especially at the end.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a great film that takes small risks in animation and storytelling. The effort pays off as the movie engages its audience and is fun and interesting for both adults and children.