If you must blink, do it now . . . if you look away, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish.
Kubo & the Two Strings is a real triumph. It’s the tale of a young boy, fleeing vengeful spirits, who finds himself discovering untapped potential within himself with the help of a motley crew of unlikely allies. It’s a magical movie in many, many ways, not least the astounding visuals, which are gorgeous and breathtaking even if you aren’t aware that this is stop-motion work. The magical world comes wonderfully to life as the characters explore it. There’s some really great work with the paper Kubo uses to create his magical dramas. The film is, in essence, a visually beautiful film in which various visually beautiful dramas play out. There’s a lengthy sequence that takes place on the sea that is some of the best adventure filmmaking in ages. The fight sequence that happens on the boat is really intense and thrilling. The character designs and the vocal performances are both really great and add up to create really wonderful characters that you can empathize with in a really strong way. Charlize Theron’s monkey is a compelling action hero of her own kind. Matthew McConaughey is surprisingly on point as a samurai/beetle hybrid (talk about sentences I never thought I’d hear), keeping just enough of his own signature flair without completely making the character seem out of place. The two aunts, voiced by Rooney Mara, are surprisingly scary; the first scene where they appear on the other side of a lake from Kubo is incredibly creepy and a later scene where one of the masks they were is broken is also really chilling. Ralph Fiennes is fantastic as the Moon King and let me just talk about this character for a minute. The Moon King is a real pleasure as an antagonist – he’s kept off screen for an incredibly long time and when he finally arrives, he’s really striking in a lot of ways. He’s a villain with an odd motivation and the end he hopes to achieve is one that we, as an audience, kind of can’t help but sympathize with when he lays it out calmly and sensibly. And the ultimate climax is surprisingly compelling in the way that the movie deals with the character. The Moon King’s ultimate fate was surprising and effective. If there’s a flaw, it’s that the movie leans a bit heavily on its themes. Yes, this movie is very much about the stories we tell about our world and about ourselves and the number of times they say “story” in the last twenty minutes or so of this movie is really over the top. But I won’t quibble with a movie this effective and beautiful. It was breathtaking visually, often funny, always thrilling, surprisingly emotionally resonant; just a great, great movie. 4 stars.
tl;dr – beautiful & powerful animated tale is breathtaking, witty, heartbreaking and terrifying by turns; nothing less than a masterful animated triumph. 4 stars.