Bryan and I watched Kubo and the Two Strings last night, and I immediately understood why it wasn’t a commercial box office success when it premiered in U.S. theaters in 2016.
Kubo features stop-motion animation in a world that’s come to expect the sheer perfection of CGI. While it’s an animated film, Kubo is most certainly not suited for kids. The story does not hold to traditional American storytelling tropes, takes magic to a whole new level, and portrays historical Japanese culture.
And while these are some of the reasons Kubo likely didn’t achieve box office success, they are the reasons you should drop everything you’re doing and WATCH THIS MOVIE RIGHT NOW!
Quite frankly, this film left me breathless.
First of all, Laika Studios’ stop-motion animation is spectacular. With Kubo, they’ve achieved a whole level in the art form. (Just watch the trailer for proof.) The majority of the scenes were damn near seamless in execution. The only reminders for me that this was a stop-motion film were little hints around the mouths of characters as they spoke and the distinct style that is associated with this type of animation. Truly, the artistry alone is worth watching this film.
If you know any of Laika’s previous films (like Coraline, ParaNorman, or The Box Trolls), you know they aren’t afraid to get a little dark. Well, I’m not going to sugarcoat it: Kubo is fucking terrifying. Like vengeful floating witches in Kabuki masks terrifying. Like if you let your young child watch this movie they are likely to have crazy imaginative (and gorgeous) but truly horrifying nightmares. The villains in Kubo are ruthless; I mean, our titular character and 11-year-old hero only has one eye because of them. The threat of bodily harm, death, and destruction is palpable throughout this story. And the world is vividly portrayed, upping the creep factor tenfold. For me, all of this works together to heighten the tension and draw me in. If you like spooky stories, Kubo is a must see.
I absolutely love that Kubo draws inspiration from Japanese folklore. From ancient samurai to festivals that bridge the divide between the living and the dead, from the art of origami to the importance (and inherent magic) of storytelling, Kubo does a beautiful job representing ancient Japanese culture (at least to the best of my knowledge – I don’t proclaim myself an expert!). Though it would’ve been nice if the voice actors were of Asian descent (as in Disney’s Moana), Kubo is still a delight in terms of representation of both another culture and a different approach to storytelling.
The last thing you should know about Kubo is that it packs emotional punch. Central to this coming-of-age story are themes of family, loss, life, death, and protecting those your love. I got all the feels during the climax and ending of Kubo (luckily, I’m battling a cold, so Bryan thought I was blowing my nose because I had to). And that’s just how I like my stories—with characters I care about and messages that stir something within me.
Seriously, just watch Kubo and the Two Strings. Allow yourself to get caught up in magic. Remember why family is so important. Drown in gorgeous art. And don’t blink, because you just might miss something incredible.