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Kubo and the Two Strings Review!

Jondee here in the Vastlands,

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Kubo and the Two Strings is a Laika production that combines stop motion animation with computer generated imagery to create something beautiful. It is an animated film that stands apart from the other Laika films which are great, in that the darkness of the story does not overwhelm the fun, action, and the bright message of the film. It is about family, stories, and memory. The movie was directed by Travis Knight, animator and head of Laika, with a screenplay by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler (who wrote Paranorman). The film begins with Kubo’s narration, he is voiced by Art Parkinson, (who played Rickon Stark), don’t worry Kubo doesn’t have to dodge here. Kubo in Japanese means depression, but he is a hopeful character. The last Laika film, Boxtrolls (2014), featured Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran Stark) as Eggs so the GoT connection is strong at Laika. The opening of the film follows a woman on a boat traveling across the Dark Sea under the moon. A tsunami is about to wreck the boat, but she strums her shamisen (the three stringed instrument) and it parts the tsunami, the visuals in the film are stunning. She ends up washed ashore, a scar down her left eye, with her crying baby with one eye. He is wrapped up in his father’s red kimono with the beetle symbol on his back. An older Kubo (now about 11), with his hair flopping over his eyepatch, collects the paper scattered across the cave in Mortal’s Point, a jagged cliff above the Dark Sea. His only companion is his monkey figurine. He is taking care of his stricken mother, forming origami animals for her, but heads off to the Sun Village when a bell tolls.

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There he talks to an elderly village lady, Kameyo (Brenda Vaccaro), who supports him and adds that he should put a fire breathing chicken in his story, funny. An audience gathers when he strums his shamisen and introduces his story. We get that George Takei voices a father, Hosato, when he remarks, “Oh my.” Kubo’s music animates the paper into an origami samurai whom he calls Hanzo taking on all sorts of beasties, a kaiju spider and others, to win the day against the Moon King. The bell tolls and Kubo leaves his audience wanting more, but really it is to return to the cave before dark. His mother seems to be lucid enough to continue the story about her fleeing Kubo’s grandfather who took his eye and his samurai father saving them. He returns to Sun Village to talk to Kameyo and she tells him about the Obon Festival, using lanterns to speak to family members who have passed at the Spirits’ Gate. Kubo wants to speak to his father and makes an origami lantern. He pleads for his father to say something as the other lanterns are placed on the river to send the spirits back. It is night and his aunts, The Sisters, sinisterly voiced by Rooney Mara, have found him. They have the black hats, chain weapons, and white masks. Kubo runs to the villageand he runs until his mother strums the shamisen to blast her sisters back.  Kubo’s mother tells him to find his father’s armor and uses her magic to turn the beetle symbol on his kimono into wings! He tries to hold his mother, but ends up with a strand of her hair flying away into the Ice Fields, he is wakened by Monkey, a Japanese macaue or snow monkey. She is of course voiced by Charlize Theron. Judgmental, wry, the comedy comes out of her seriousness, but behind all of that is her absolute devotion to Kubo, also it is interesting to see the monkey’s scar. Monkey makes a bracelet out of the strand of his mother’s hair.

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Kubo’s quest is to find the three pieces of his father’s armor; his sword (I’m thinking more katana, the Japanese words are not identified here), armor, and helmet. They need a direction and the paper forms into an origami Hanzo who points his katana towards the armor pieces. Kubo falls into a cave, Monkey chases after him, and they find the person following them. This is the samurai in Japanese beetle armor called Beetle (incredibly voiced by Matthew McConaughey). He is confident, cursed to forget, and questioning everything. It is also funny to see the duo arguing with each other. Plus, he has another set of insect arms!  No spoilers, but you can sense the analogies to other people in Kubo’s life. Beetle is impressed that Kubo is wearing the symbol of his master. He joins his quest and they end up at the Hall of Bones looking for the sword. Beetle goes to draw the sword from a giant, red skeletal hand. It lifts up with other bones to assemble into a giant skeleton! This was made possible with one of the largest stop motion figures. Beetle looses several arrows, but they deflect off of the skeleton. The sword that Beetle recovered is a fake, it shatters, and the skeleton picks up Monkey. Kubo has to somehow reach the skeleton’s head with buried swords like hair, find the right sword, and free Monkey. Kubo has to face two more beasties, Monkey duels with one of the Sisters, and ultimately Kubo must face the Moon King (voiced by Ralph Fiennes). It is a late introduction of the Moon King, but it is one of the best endings to a villain. This film is an impressive feat for Laika, it has the incredible visuals and design, but there are no slow moments. Five Strings out of Five!