A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
One of the most impressive elements of “Kubo and the Two Strings”—besides its dazzling stop-motion animation, its powerful performances and its transporting score—is the amount of credit it gives its audience, particularly its younger viewers.
The Oregon-based animation house Laika has demonstrated a delightfully dark sense of humor and a taste for twisted storytelling in its previous offerings, “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” and “The Boxtrolls.” In “Kubo and the Two Strings,” the directorial debut of Laika CEO Travis Knight, the lead character faces deadly peril from the very first moment we see him. The young Japanese boy who gives the film its title learns early on that the world can be a cruel place, that family can’t necessarily be trusted and that he’ll frequently have to function as the grown-up in the equation when his ailing mother is incapable of doing so.
The script from Marc Haimes and Chris Butler (from a story by Haimes and Shannon Tindle) has faith that kids can handle such tough stuff and never talks down to them. But Knight and his massive team of animators have packaged these weighty, complex themes within visuals that are just jaw-dropping in both their beauty and craftsmanship. A decade in the making, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is both painstakingly detailed and epic in scope. Inspired by a multitude of Japanese art forms, it’s textured yet crisp, frighteningly dark yet radiant with bold color. It’s a classic hero’s journey full of action and adventure, but it’s also an intimate fable about love and loss, magic and memory.
Above all else, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is fittingly about storytelling and its capacity to transform and connect us. The timelessness of the film gives it an overall feeling of cinematic grace, with obvious nods to greats ranging from Kurosawa and Miyazaki to Spielberg and Lucas. The resonance of the performances from its excellent voice cast gives it an immediate emotional punch.