Kubo and the Two Strings is an innovative, original, imaginative, hand-crafted (literally), morally-compelling film with a narrative arc that is truly redemptive in the theologically-rich, Christian sense of the word. We’re talking Pixar-at-the-height-of-their-powers levels of greatness here, friends. Laika Studios, the stop-motion animation studio behind Kubo and the Two Strings (as well as 2014’s The Boxtrolls, 2012’s ParaNorman, and 2009’s Coraline), is doing astounding work that has the potential to make the world a better place. Go see Kubo and the Two Strings.
I plead, because Kubo and the Two Strings made one quarter the amount of money last weekend that the three films above it in the box office rankings made. Those three movies were Suicide Squad, Sausage Party, and War Dogs.
After weekends like the last, it’s difficult for me to defend the tastes of the average American. So please go see Kubo and the Two Strings. We need more movies like it, and that will only happen if they make money.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a fantasy epic about a boy with a magical shamisen (it’s like a banjo) that he uses to manipulate paper into origami objects and tell stories to the people in his local village. His mother hides a dark past, and one night an old enemy reappears to capture Kubo and take him away. Kubo’s mother sends him on a quest to find magical armor so he can defend himself. It’s a “chosen one on a quest” tale, but it never feels stale in large part because of the endless creativity Laika applies to the story. It’s a little bit creepy and a lot of bit fun. Every moment of this movie is a surprise.
Especially the ending, which is unlike 99% of other movies in the way it treats the film’s villain. Kubo and the Two Strings revolves around the stories we tell and the way those stories shape our expectation of and interactions with the world. Kubo’s tale is influenced by Asian forms of spirituality, so its characters believe things happen in cycles. There are no endings. Ultimately, there are no changes. We tell the same stories, and are therefore the same people, for eternity.
The finale of the film adds a new wrinkle, suggesting—wisely—that it is not enough to defeat your enemy. If you want to escape the cycle, if you want lasting and true peace, if you want peace to become part of who you are and who your community is, if you want it to guide every aspect of your life, you have to offer your enemies a new story with which to define their lives. You have to fold their story into your own. True redemption means understanding yourself and your enemies as new creations. Even if its roots in this story are Asian, that is a very Christian idea.
And all of that goodness is on top of the jaw-dropping, technologically-advanced animation that Laika uses to tell this story. All the characters and object and most of the landscapes the characters interact with are physical objects the animators manipulated manually, frame-by-frame. The backgrounds are sometimes CGI, but even the water is some scenes is stop-motion. Rather than include a typical trailer below as I usually do, I’ve included a featurette produced by The Verge which shows the process in action. It’s astounding just like the film it is about.
*I haven’t seen War Dogs. Maybe it’s a surpassingly moral film, like Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Reports suggest otherwise.
You might also find these reviews of Kubo and the Two Strings helpful: