KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
** SPOILERS **
Kubo and the Two Strings is exquisite. Directed by Travis Knight and gorgeously animated in eye-popping stop motion by Laika, Kubo and the Two Strings delivers a moving message of the power of family and the importance of story. In Ancient Japan, a mother (voiced by Charlize Theron) and her infant son flees her family and takes refuge in a cave above a tiny village. Her son lost an eye, taken by her father, whom we learn is a powerful god called the Moon King (voiced by Ralph Fiennes). Eleven years later, her son, Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson), bright, heroic, and well-liked, uses magical music and origami to dazzle his fellow villagers with tales of his father, the samurai Hanzo, who battled the Moon King and once sought a magical suit of armor and an unbreakable sword. Kubo is warned by his mother, who suffers from mental illness, to never stay out past sundown. One night, Kubo does, and is found by his mother's evil Sisters (voiced by Rooney Mara). Accompanied by a magical but stern Monkey and an amnesiac comic relief former samurai transformed into a Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), Kubo is plunged into a thrilling adventure to find the missing pieces of the magic armor his father once wore so he can defeat the Moon King and restore honor to his family.
The visuals are extraordinary. Kubo's quest alongside Monkey and Beetle sees him battle a giant skeleton with multiple swords, including the Sword Unbreakable he seeks, impaled in its head. In a forbidding lake, Kubo and Beetle find the breast plate of his magic armor, along with a number of terrifying gigantic eyeballs serving what seems to be a Sarlaac monster at the bottom of the lake. There are violent battles between the Sisters and Monkey, but the screenplay by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler keeps the focus on Kubo's emotional growth, while weaving in evocative themes of the power stories contain. A revelation involving the always-bickering Monkey and Beetle, as well as the final battles between Monkey and the Sisters and Kubo and his grandfather the Moon King imbuess Kubo and the Two Strings with poignant family drama. Though Kubo employs famous non-Asian Hollywood actors to voice Asian roles (George Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa voice only minor roles of villagers), Kubo and the Two Strings vividly brings to life a dreamy vision of Ancient Japan, where origami is magic and the powers of darkness can be defeated by the light of a family's love.