19 September 2016
Kubo and the Two Strings review
The opening act of Kubo and the Two Strings is some of the finest film making I've ever seen, truly transcendent cinema that holds your attention in a vice like grip throughout, bursting at the seams with the kind of imagination and beauty and craftsmanship that you rarely get to see. From an awe-inspiring sequence that sees Kubo's mother sailing through impossibly rough seas, to a charming scene that sees Kubo using his magic, his music and his origami to tell tales to an enraptured village, Kubo and the Two Strings instantly marks itself out as something different in the best possible way, all before the plot is even set in motion.
We follow Kubo, a young boy with one eye who is living in hiding with his mother after his grandfather tried to blind him as a baby. Kubo, like his mother and the rest of her family, has magical powers - his are best expressed through his instrument, a three stringed guitar that he uses to stage small street performances that tell the story of a great warrior named Hanzo using magically animated origami. However, after the rest of his mothers family find him, Kubo must travel far and wide to locate and unite three mystical artifacts that will give him the power to defeat his grandfather.
It's a film with a great deal on its mind, approaching topics such as loss and legacy, but the unifying theme behind it all is the idea that memories are ultimately the most important thing we have, whether they be the memories we have of other people or other peoples memories of us. They define who we are, and help us live on long after we're gone - without them, we may as well not exist.
It is musings like this that help make Kubo and the Two Strings feel significantly more mature than the standard kids film, a feeling only reinforced by the films willingness to move at its own leisurely pace, to be what it wants to be. You never get the sense that any aspect of Kubo and the Two Strings came from feedback from test screenings, or uneasy compromises with executives - instead, Kubo and the Two Strings feels very much like the director had full creative control throughout, a level of artistic integrity that sadly seems to be something of a rarity now.
And believe me, Kubo and the Two Strings is most certainly art. Visually, the film is flawless - there isn't a frame of this movie that wouldn't make for a beautiful wall hanging, and not just thanks to the highly stylised stop-motion animation and consistently impressive cinematography. The obviously Eastern influenced design of the characters and world they inhabit is a joy to behold, adding a sense of authenticity to the films mythology, itself interacting with and reinforcing the aforementioned themes of Kubo and the Two Strings.
But none of this stops Kubo and the Two Strings from being a film suitable for those of all ages. Yes, there is a refreshing amount of depth here, but it's never presented in a way that will alienate children. And yes, there are some very broad comedic moments here too, but they never distract from what Kubo and the Two Strings is doing. It's a film that very carefully balances the interests of its younger audience with its older - the very balancing act that has made Pixar and Studio Ghibli as successful as they are - and the result is a movie never seems as if it's pitching something at the wrong level.
In fact, Kubo and the Two Strings only has one real flaw - a plot that feels just a little by-the-numbers when compared to every other aspect of the movie. This wouldn't matter as much as it feels like it does if Kubo and the Two Strings didn't have such a strong opening, but an unfortunate side effect of an opening this great is that it becomes very hard to reach those same heights when the plot starts in earnest. Still, I can count on one hand the number of films that would be able to live up to the opening presented to us here, so it's hard to hold that against the film too much.
Which means that ultimately, Kubo and the Two Strings is nothing less than an incredibly well-made film, a wholly original experience that has left me with a thirst to track down as much as I can from production company Laika. 2016 may have seen the release of a surprising amount of quality children's films - Zootropolis, The BFG, Pete's Dragon - but I don't think we'll be talking about those come the end of the year. We'll be talking about Kubo and the Two Strings.