Kubo spends his days in the town square of his small village telling elaborate stories using his magic shamisen to bring elaborate origami creations to life. After staying out too late attempting to contact the spirit of his father, Kubo's location is given up to the fearsome Moon King and his deadly twin daughters. With The Moon King on his tail, Kubo must go on a quest to find a set of magical armor which will lead to The Moon King's demise.
I didn't love KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS. I liked it a lot, but it is something that demands to be considered. LAIKA puts a lot of time and effort into their productions and that is evident in KUBO more than any of their previous undertakings. The scale of this film is massive and features some of the most astonishing stop-motion puppets I've ever seen. KUBO should earn this year's best animated feature Oscar based on its technical merits alone. And while the film's technical feats aren't the only muscle KUBO has to flex, it's certainly the most developed.
While the world inhabited by Kubo and his cohorts is rich and fully lived in, it leads to an odd narrative hurdle in that it also doesn't feel fully fleshed out to the audience. As such, certain machinations of the world feel like conveniences when a little bit of exposition could have granted them some narrative weight. This isn't ideal of course, and certainly takes a few points away from a critical standpoint, but is easily glossed over when sitting in the theater and drinking the movie in.
Second only to its jaw-dropping animation is the voice cast. I know this sounds weird given that her name seemed to be everywhere after MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, but Charlize Theron might be the most underappreciated actress of her generation. To be fair, I almost never seek out a project because of her involvement, but when she shows up I find myself appreciative of her presence. Her turn as Monkey is authoritative, maternal, a little high-strung, and warm sometimes all at once. Matthew McConaughey is having a blast here as Beetle and we get to see a silly side of him rarely on display. Of course, since he's one of Hollywood's best actors, when the dramatic bits start happening, he sells them like there's no tomorrow. The best part about both performers is that they have no problem taking a backseat to Art Parkinson's Kubo. Parkinson is a revelation in the part and I would love to see him take on a live action role. On the villainous side, Ralph Fiennes is dependable as always and Rooney Mara is wonderfully creepy as The Moon King's twin minions. The movie actually loses a lot of luster when she disappears.
KUBO tugs at the heart strings pretty hard, but never in an overly manipulative way. As a matter of fact, there are some consequences to Kubo's quest that stick around to the end of the movie and aren't resolved "because magic." It was really refreshing and something I wish more kids movies committed to. Thematically speaking, the film is fine and while its themes can get a little too spelled out (hey, it's still a movie aimed at children), I think everyone will find something to relate to. For me it was about the power of story and how telling a great story can shape someone for the rest of their life. After all, that's what all great films do, right?
When it's all said and done, KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS is an above average mixed bag that you should certainly spend your time and money on. It features the best animation of the year and it's easy to get lost in the wonderful scenery of Kubo's world. On the other hand there are some structural elements that leave a little to be desired and keep it from being an all-timer to be held in the pantheon of great animation, but that doesn't disqualify it completely. We've been lamenting the loss of original movies at the box office all year, and yet movies like KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS under perform. Showbusiness is first and foremost a business and your dollars count. So if you want more things like KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS rather than four more AVATAR movies, you have to get out there and show creators and financiers you're willing to pony up for that experience.