We know that the stories we tell to the children has to be entertaining and interesting, it also carries the values we wish them to adopt in their life. Laika presents the story of Kubo and the two strings, to implant unique values that we rarely find in movies intended for children, however Laika is beginning to be known for them, like -for example – their movie ParaNorman.
Laika depends on using a special method of narrating its stories which is the stop motion animation (that is when they create the characters as little figures and capture their movements one frame at a time, and when the pictures are played successively, it gives the illusion of the figures coming to life) we can notice Laika’s successful development of this technique in this movie, as the movement is smoother and more realistic.
Going back to Kubo who is a young child with one eye, who takes care of his ill mother by selling his stories, music, and origami figures in a nearby village, even though the story takes place in Japan, Kubo with his sangen (musical instrument) reminds me of the Egyptian Rebab‘s poet who narrates the glorious tales of ancient heroes like Abu Zayd al-Hilali, Kubo narrates similarly the story of his heroic samurai father Hanzo, and as the plot develops our hero Kubo embarks on a journey to seek his father’s magical armor and sword in order to defeat an evil spirit that wishes to inflict harm on Kubo.
On this journey we meet many noteworthy characters, but the most important of them all is certainly Kubo himself whose vocal performance is depicted by the young actor Art Parkinson, who was able through the entire movie to portray our young hero’s complex and constantly changing emotions, for he is confidence when he is narrating his stories in front of a crowd, he is sad as he realize there is nothing he can do to heal his sick mother, he is afraid that he has to face powers that may rob him of his life, and he is cheerful as life is filled with many joys for a child of his age.
The performance of Rooney Mara as Kubo’s evil aunts is also praiseworthy, for just the way they call his name is sufficient to let us know that we are to meet cold and dark creatures, and later as they fight Monkey, the vocal interpretation of the actress adds depth to the characters, for they are not as emotionless as they seem, and their fury is justified at least in their point of view.
The role of Monkey was represented by the voice of the actress Charlize Theron, which was suitable, especially that it resembles her role in Mad Max: Fury Road as Furioso, both characters are strict, brave, and willing to risk even their lives to protect those whom they care about, except Monkey is definitely attempting harder to avoid danger.
On the other hand there is Beetle who is performed by Matthew McConaughey, the character is more than just a comic relief or a sidekick for Kubo, he creates a balance with his sense of humor, he is also an important factor in the story and indispensable member of the team to achieve victory.
The music is composed by Dario Marianelli, and it has as powerful of presence as the characters themselves, it accompany us from the first scene to the last, it emphasize the threats of danger and the depth of sadness, in some scenes it lift our spirits and even makes us smile, like the scene where Kubo creates origami birds with his new found magical powers.
There are some images in the movie that I believe were designed to get stuck in the audience’s mind even after the end of the movie, the credit certainly goes to the great effort of the entire cast and to the design of the cinematographer Frank Passingham, like the scene where Kubo’s mother rests on the beach after a deadly and exhausting struggle with the waves, she holds the toddler Kubo in her embrace, as the moon dyes everything surrounding them with shades of blue and black, however Kubo’s mother with her bright yellow robe becomes the center of the image and hope, as the color reminds us of the certainty of the rising sun no matter how dark the night gets.
The movie presents many themes like the true meaning for heroism, for Kubo with his endurance in serving his ill mother, with his attentiveness to his job, with his kindness towards others, Kubo doesn’t need a dangerous journey to become a hero, he already is, the movie also reveals the true power of the audience in any artistic production, for the hero will surely perish if the audience abandons him, and lastly the movie explores the duality of the poet/ warrior who resists evil with his sword and his music, it showcases which side is the more capable in conquering the evil that lies within our world and our spirit.
Kubo and the two strings is intended for children but it is suitable for all ages, the director Travis Knight has offered a production that is worth making him proud, I personally await more successful productions in the future, especially that this movie has raised the standards in this genre.