Visually, animation is in the throes of a technological renaissance. In nearly every other way, however, the genre’s art is fading, with the films becoming victims of their own success.
Amidst 2016’s glut of copycat animated offerings, however, comes a truly exceptional and moving tale, one of Kubo and the Two Strings.
We first meet our hero as a baby, carried to a distant land by his mother who flees an unknown foe. There they hide together throughout the years, with Kubo learning to control his musically-inspired magic, and understanding the meaning of his missing left eye. Beyond this, most films would take any opportunity to explain as much as possible to their audience. Not Kubo. The rules of this mystical world are only ever explained out of necessity, a refreshing change that frees up time for the characters to flourish.
Though animation is often assumed to be the medium of children’s films, Kubo deals with some surprisingly mature themes. A small boy supporting his ailing mother through something akin to the onset of dementia is dealt with thoughtfully and quietly, while the threat of the masked evil Sisters would be enough to give any child nightmares. Not to advocate said nightmares, but much like James and the Giant Peach’s terrifying Rhino, the presence of a genuinely frightening villain gives any story that much more urgency and weight.
Part of Kubo’s magic, at least, must be attributed to the visual beauty of stop-motion. It needs to be seen to be believed. To know these models were sculpted and moved, frame by frame, by a group of dedicated and immensely talented artists makes the viewing experience that much more special and personal. It looks spectacular, and would surely stand up against true Japanese folklore.
Of course, visuals are the shallowest slice of any classic animation, and so it is with Kubo.
The story is moving but never wallows in sadness, and succeeds in telling a beautiful tale, full of loveable characters and great voice acting. Even the humour is genuinely funny, and doesn’t just resort to slapstick or lazily written takes on animation tropes. Perhaps the main plot resolves too quickly, and becomes a little too twee and preachy. That being said, a good PG film needs to impart its message to a younger audience, and it cannot be begrudged for doing so.
Kubo is a near-perfect fable. Its central theme speaks of our own personal stories, and of old endings and new beginnings. It entrances, touches and delights in equal measure. I wouldn’t show my kids The Lego Movie, or Wreck-It Ralph, or even Up. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for fantastical tales of magic and monsters. That, or Kubo and the Two Strings really is that incredibly good.