With the opening frames of “Kubo and the Two Strings,” our title character warns us, “If you must blink, do it now.”
And indeed, I would be amazed to meet a single soul wanting to miss a single second of this stunningly animated film. With on-point vocal work, Dario Marianelli’s sweeping score, and beautiful messages of family, love, loss, and forgiveness, “Kubo and the Two Strings” hits a high-note as an instant classic. In a summer that has been utterly lackluster on the movie front—and for students such as ourselves, caught up the stresses of a new semester—a film that brings magic into our lives, like Kubo does so effortlessly, is most welcome.
This is a film that is comfortable taking dark paths in its storyline, and it treats its younger viewers with the belief that they will be able to handle such mature themes, a gesture of respect that is often missing from children’s films these days.
From the first moment, “Kubo and the Two Strings” creates a sense of foreboding. Kubo’s mother, a powerful witch, flees from her family with her newborn son over the ocean, fearful that her father, the vengeful Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), will appear to steal young Kubo’s right eye.
Years later, Kubo (Art Parkinson of “Game of Thrones”) lives quietly in a seaside cave alongside his mother. Kubo often tells stories to the local villagers, using the magic of his shamisen (a traditional Japanese lute) to bring origami creations to life.
But the Moon King still searches for Kubo, and one fateful day, his twin aunts (both played by Rooney Mara) attack, intent on removing his remaining eye. Saved by the last of his mother’s magic, Kubo teams up with Monkey (Charlize Theron)—a wooden monkey charm brought to life—and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey)—a half-man, half-beetle—in a search for The Armor Impenetrable, The Sword Unbreakable, and The Helmet Invulnerable to defeat the Moon King.
Despite the darkness of Kubo’s situation, we are treated to such magnificent sights as life-like mountain vistas, Kubo’s magic building a delicate boat of leaves, and gods and monsters in thrilling battles. Animation house Laika reaches new heights in nearly every scene, so much so that you will likely question whether a background has been painted or is real.
However, there is also a tendency for battles and travel-time to lean toward the video game-ish. In addition, the somewhat forced banter between Monkey and Beetle is sometimes a little cringe-worthy, with Beetle saddled with what is easily the weakest dialogue in the film.
Regardless of such small missteps, “Kubo and the Two Strings” will be sure to have you sitting in awe before the magic on the screen.
(To the parents out there: Be warned that “Kubo and the Two Strings” has some themes and imagery that will certainly frighten the little ones. Use caution.)