My children and I now go out to the movies often to enjoy cinematic treasures on the big screen. That wasn’t always the case for my worry about my son’s sensory issues and whether he could stay in his seat for an entire movie were factors that kept our screen entertainment to screens within our home. But a year or so ago the kids and I stumbled into a lovely theater in New Milford, Connecticut to see “Minions” and my son was thrilled with that experience so I knew we could try “movie night” again. So we began early in 2016 to go out to the theater regularly and the overall result has been enormously successful. This year we have seen Zootopia, The Good Dinosaur, Ratchet and Clank, Angry Birds, Kung Fu Panda 3, Ice Age: Collision Course, Finding Dory, The Secret Life of Pets, and only a few “Dad” selections namely Captain America: Civil War, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Star Trek: Beyond, Star Wars: Force Awakens (with my daughter only in January) and I saw Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad without the kids.
I share this background to signify that at no time during after any of those silver screen experiences did I decide to write a review of a movie until after we saw the 7:15pm showing of Kubo and the Two Strings at my local Carmike Cinema’s Cinerom-6 in Torrington, CT And bear in mind I write reviews in the Register Citizen newspaper (they don’t appear in Nutmeg Chatter but possibly I should start adding links?) but those reviews are always about local theater productions and performance events. This movie is the first movie review I’ve been inspired to write about so I hope that says a lot.I recognize it is absolutely late in the day and the movie may not be in theaters too long (nowadays the shelf life of a film in a theater is a couple of weeks and Kubo has been out for a while-it opened August 19th) but I heartily endorse and recommend this movie especially considering that most of the movies I’ve previously listed were either sequels or came from other forms of media entertainment like comic books or video games.
For all the animated movies I have seen thus far… Kubo and the Two Strings is the best animated film of the year to date.
If you happened upon the trailer at all, especially on the big screen while waiting for another movie, you may have noted the powerful symphonic rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” as you were brought into a visually interesting world of ancient Japan. The visual style is so spectacular you may have wondered if the production company created their movie with some exceptional form of computer graphic animation. The wonder of Kubo and the Two Strings is that this movie was made with exceptional stop motion animation techniques.
The story is the hero’s journey of Kubo, a one-eyed boy with a magical guitar who, with the help of a Monkey and a giant Samurai Beetle, quests for a sword, armor and shield as he is told these items will be his only means of protection from the evil sisters (his aunts) and his grandfather Moon while they in turn seek him out to take away his other eye. The story is much deeper than what I’ve described but I don’t wish to create unnecessary spoilers. The movie is best with little foreknowledge other than knowing that this movie will have exceptional art and the story is worthy.
Consider that most animated movies, even the somewhat self-serving but still fun “computer game turned movie” films, will have some simple message in their story. Those messages are usually the simple ones of valuing friendship, being honest, treating others kindly, etc but Kubo’s story has many different layers. Kubo’s story involves messages about family, about the nature of quests and what’s worth searching for, and even about the concepts of life and death and what endures. Kubo and the Two Strings is a story worth telling. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always fun to have a “get lost and find your way back story (Secret Life of Pets and to a certain extent Dory although Dory had more to it than that)” or “fight those who attack us story (Angry Birds/Ratchet and Clank/TMNT, etc) but Kubo and the Two Strings story is exceptional. An adult audience member wouldn’t feel as if he/she were only watching a large version of a Saturday morning cartoon, instead they would be watching a movie on its own merits that happens to be animated.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a stop-motion animated movie that doesn’t look like it could possibly have been created through the use of stop motion animation.
The artwork that brought this story to life is phenomenal which makes the film worth seeing on the big screen if you can still do it. In the movie, the magic Kubo creates is in the form of origami figures that come to life when he plays the guitar. This element creates many different opportunities for the animators to use stop-motion animation to imagine scenes that look wondrous and “feel real” within that world. Unlike most computer graphic artwork movies, the CGI still looks CGI which doesn’t detract from what those artists created but it’s equivalent of saying “this pastel painting looks like pastel”. With stop motion animation there is true depth of field, there is texture in every item/article in the set and there is a “reality” to the world. Unlike some other earlier stop motion animated movies, there is no jerking/halting of any movement of the characters. There’s lots of action but the action is always shown with fluid movement. This is a stop-motion animated movie that doesn’t look like it could possibly have been created through the use of stop motion animation.
Laika production company used 3D printer technology, enormous sets of intricate detail and the largest stop-motion animated figure in history for this film. Stop motion animation is one of the earliest forms of movie-making but what Lakia does here in Kubo is take that method of film creation and makes the genre leap frog forward into the 21st century and beyond. The sheer size of what they endeavored to do created a spectacle of wonder but it is not spectacle for spectacle’s sake, they used tools that were absolutely vital to create the best story they could tell.
For all the animated movies I have seen thus far including Pixar’s Finding Dory, Kubo and the Two Strings was for me the best animated film of the year. If there is still a chance to see the movie in theaters, and if you’re inclined to see a movie, this is worth spending the money on to see.
—note: This review is entirely written by the author (me). No part of this experience was sponsored in any way. I paid for the tickets and, if you’re curious, the popcorn, ICEEs and a small bag of Airheads candy too.