Review – “Kubo and the Two Strings”

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About two months ago, my social media started going crazy for this movie. And while I’m usually hesitant to buy into any hype I’m not creating myself (or the hype created by one of the celebrities I want to hear hype from), I decided to give this a chance.

And then…I totally missed it in theaters.

But then I saw it anyway, thus destroying that narrative thread before it even got started. (Sorry. I wrote a literal book during NaNoWriMo in November. So I’m running pretty low on words at the moment.)

The Basics. “Kubo” is a stop-motion movie in the vein of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” or…um…other movies of that genre. It isn’t really something people make much anymore.

This was a nice change of pace, because I like stop-motion animation but I’m tired of Tim Burton’s generic brand of creepiness and oh, look, it’s Johnny Depp for some reason. Now, where’s Hilary Bonham Carter? She’s got to be around here someplace. Although…this movie does get sort of creepy. I mean, actually, I wouldn’t let my kid watch this movie because it would probably give him nightmares. But…well, there’s really pretty stuff, too, so it balances out?

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Okay. So maybe you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a Tim Burton movie.

Tim Burton aside (where he belongs), this movie tells the story of a young boy, Kubo, who lives in a more or less Japanese fantasy setting. He and his mother fled the evil Moon King years before, after he stole one of Kubo’s eyes. And the idea is that they must live in seclusion to keep the Moon King from getting the second eye. So…yeah. I’m reading this again and it seems super dark.

Oh, did I mention Kubo’s eye was stolen while he was a baby?

Look. There’s a sassy talking monkey. Trust me. It’s not all gloom and doom.

The Good. The movie, to make a long story short, is gorgeous. I don’t usually tell people that they should see a movie or watch a show just because it looks pretty. And I guess this is no exception. But it was a near thing.

I give particular credit to the action and fight scenes, which look really, really good. More than that, though, is that the magical powers on display weren’t your standard fare. If there’s another movie where the hero primarily attacks his enemies using origami minions controlled by an enchanted shamisen, it’s slipping my mind at the moment.

The story is solid through the first three-quarters or so, with that “Avengers”-esque mix of action and humor that’s become pretty common nowadays. And while that sort of quip-y action humor is rapidly heading towards cliche territory, I personally enjoy it. Plus, given the sometimes dark subject matter, it was probably necessary to keep the movie from heading deep into “downer” territory rather just hang out near the top and bum you out a little.

The characters are unique and likeable, for the most part. (With the exception of the Matthew McConaughey samurai, who lost some points for being voiced by Matthew McConaughey.) And while I wouldn’t say any really stand out, they were all at or above average. (With the exception of the sassy Charlize Theron monkey, who gained some points for being a sassy monkey.)

As long as you don’t go into this expecting a kid’s movie, you’ll get what you paid for (or pirated illegally or whatever – I’m not here to judge).

The Bad. My only real beef with the movie comes down to the story. Or beefs, I suppose? I’m pretty sure that’s a real word.

The first issue was that the narrative suffered from “set-piece syndrome.” The story didn’t so much move from place to place as it was just jerked between each major setting for an action sequence. And while it’s hard to argue with the results, you did get the strange feeling sometimes that the writer basically said, “Okay. First the idyllic village. Then we’ll go to the desolate snowfields that emphasize the feelings of loss. Then the scary cave for a scary skeleton fight. And then…hmmm…did we do a water thing yet?”

It’s worth mentioning that I didn’t notice this until after I finished watching the movie. It didn’t take me out of the experience at all. But it was a thing and this is a review and here we are.

The other issue was that the story hits kind of a dead note in the lead-up to the final battle. And while I can’t get into it without major spoilers, the whole thing just kind of bummed me out. The movie has a very clear trajectory and then, well, imagine if you were watching “The Lord of the Rings” and Frodo dies of a cold while climbing Mount Doom. It’s the sort of senseless thing that just has you spending the rest of the movie saying, “That can’t be it. There’s a twist coming.”

And then…there isn’t.

Overall, they’re not huge problems. And on their own, I’d honestly be inclined to ignore them entirely. It’s more an issue that if you put an incredibly questionable moment right before the final battle, it’s liable to distract you from, you know, the final battle.

In Conclusion. Having not seen many movies released lately worth seeing, let alone recommending to others, I was happy to find this movie. I was not happy to have missed it in theaters, because it looks like just the sort of movie one should be enjoying as light projected onto a very big screen, but I’m glad it didn’t slip by entirely.

Which, given its pretty weak advertising, is probably going to be the case for almost everyone else.

Was it perfect? No. But it was a thoroughly enjoyable ride from start to finish, minus a slight hitch right near the end. So as long as you aren’t one of those “the ending determines how good a movie is” folk, it’s a net win.

Also, George Takei is in it, mostly to just say, “Oh, my!” Is that enough to see the movie on its own? Well, in my book, yes. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

Though, in this specific case, your mileage would also be wrong.

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