By: Nick Askam
Animation movies aren’t my style. I abhor most of them. Stop-motion also isn’t my favorite (I thought Anomalisa was mediocre), but Kubo (Art Parkinson) and The Two Strings surprises and dazzles. This film is about a young kid named Kubo who must find his father’s armor. He’s doing this to help his mother and escape the grasp of his mom’s two sisters (played by Rooney Mara) and their father. On this quest, Kubo is joined by a talking monkey (Charlize Theron) and a talking beetle (Matthew McConaughey).
“If you must blink, do it now.”
If you thought that I saw this movie because it was rated highly, I did not. I didn’t see the Jungle Book, Moana, or Finding Dory. I wish I could’ve said I saw it because the stop motion concept appealed to me, but that wasn’t the case. The real reason that I went out and saw this movie was because Rooney Mara was in it. That’s honestly it. She’s my favorite actress, so I try to see everything that she’s in. I wish I had a more captivating story, but that’s it.
This is the best-looking movie that I’ve seen in a while. The visuals were spectacular. I loved the way that paper danced on screen or how Kubo got wet in certain parts. I was honestly stunned multiple times just wondering how they pulled off a movie like this. I hate to compare this film to Anomalisa because I find them so different, but where Anomalisa pushed the boundaries in camera movements and one crazy scene, I felt Kubo and The Two Strings consistently tried new techniques and purposefully played with the audience’s expectations of what a stop motion movie can be. The way the color was used on screen made this film look like it was the greatest thing I’ve seen in the last 5 years. I was shocked how good it looked.
There are moments when you should wonder if something you despise is worth despising. That something for me is my relative dislike for animation and the like. Kubo might change my mind on that because of how well it looked and how the all of the other pieces of the film fell into place. As much as I love to hate on anything that’s not live action, I have to give credit when something has craft and can amaze. Kubo and The Two Strings has done just that.
My biggest problem is that the story is only relatively good. It’s not a fantastic, amazing story like I think a movie with these types of visuals should have. I find it predictable and sometimes unbalanced. I feel that it does cool effects, but just for the sake of doing them without realizing some of the consequences. There were several moments where I was taken out of the movie because of something a character said or did. I felt myself questioning the logistics of Kubo keeping his mom on top of a mountain instead of somewhere closer to the town where more people could take care of her or how when more is revealed about Monkey and Beetle, no one had predicted that. It’s still heartfelt towards the end which makes it good – but not great in general. That sucks because I wanted it with all my heart to be better. I felt it sadly falls in with the usual anime tropes that you just have to live because of weird decisions made by the writers.
The characters are refreshing for what they are. Kubo isn’t annoying or frustrating to watch on screen. He is just a kid, so there are some natural mistakes his character makes that you’d expect. Monkey is fantastic. From the voice acting to the character’s decisions and personality, everything about her is great. Beetle, on the other hand, is not. I forgive most of Beetle’s faults for the character trying to appeal to the kids while keeping the adults entertained with a more nuanced, mature story. Rooney Mara is fantastic as the sisters. She’s genuinely terrifying, and I love the way the vocals play out. The fighting with her character was also really, really great.
I honestly didn’t expect to get so into a stop-motion fight scene. Overall, I will say that I was actually surprised by how great this movie is. Yes, there are some flaws, like in any movie, but I think when it comes down to deciding which mattered to the actual plot of the film, only a few meant enough to influence the score I will give this movie. I would recommend it to an older audience (above 10) just because it is a little dark and potentially scary. Mara is terrifying as the sisters, and she probably doesn’t get enough credit for that. The cast is great, and the voice acting is superb. The only thing I’d change is for the story to be better. Great film overall, though.