A lovely, gorgeous wonder, filled with magic, Kubo and the Two Strings enchants even as it mystifies.
That’s a good thing, by the way. Laika, the company behind Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls, has chosen to make stop-motion animated movies that don’t quite jib with the usual, and though they appear to have integrated more computerized methods of animation into their painstaking work, Kubo and the Two Strings reflects well on their creative independence.
As suggested, the story is a bit more complex than might be expected. Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) is a young boy in a Japanese village who ekes out a living by telling a compelling story with the aid of his magical stringed musical instrument. It’s the same story every day, and it never has an ending, but Kubo tells it so well, and the creatures that come to life during his telling are so fascinating, he continues to draw an appreciative audience. He cares for his ailing, memory-stricken mother in a nearby cave, and yearns for his late father, a samurai warrior.
One day, Kubo inadvertently brings forth a mighty spirit force with a vendetta against him, destroying the village and threatening his life. His mother saves him at the cost of her own life. The next day, Kubo awakens to a new world in which his tiny wooden monkey icon has come to life as a talking monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron). He is charged with finding a magical suit of armor in order to set things right and save his own life, since the magical armor is all that will protect him against evil spirit forces.
On his journey to discovery, he is also joined by a magical talking beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey). Together, the trio have many adventures and unlock long-held mysteries and secrets.
Directed by Travis Knight from a screenplay by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler, drawn from a story by Haimes and Shannon Tindle, Kubo and the Two Strings is a magical mystery tour that is sometimes a bit too fancifully plotted; I wasn’t always clear about what was happening and how it tied into the narrative. Yet the overall thrust is remarkably easy to follow: this is a classic story of good and evil, following a child who must come to terms with the actions of his parents and learn from them.
The cast is filled with actors who avoid any histrionics in their voice acting. The voices are not the stars here; the characters are the pivotal figures, and that’s how it should be. The Monkey is firm yet kind, the Beetle is a bit dense yet loyal. They are the ideal companions for Kubo, who demonstrates admirable bravery and strength of personality.
That makes Kubo and the Two Strings a movie for all ages.
The movie opens in theaters through Dallas on Friday, August 19.