By Bradley Griffith
Against my better judgment, I took my daughter to see “Kubo and the Two Strings.” My first impression of the trailer for the movie was that it looked awful. Subsequent trailers made me think I may have rushed to judgment, that it might be decent. I should have trusted my first instinct.
Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) is a young Japanese boy living in a cave on a mountaintop near the sea with his mother (Charlize Theron). A small Japanese village is nearby and Kubo visits the village every day after sunrise. Kubo is a natural-born storyteller. He plays a magical shamisen, a three-stringed Japanese musical instrument. The shamisen transforms ordinary pieces of paper into life-like and moving origami characters to illustrate Kubo’s stories.
Kubo must return to his mother, who never leaves the cave, every day before sundown. Kubo’s mother insists on Kubo being in the cave after dark. She has told Kubo the story of his life many times. She met his father while doing the bidding of Kubo’s grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). She and her two sisters (Rooney Mara) were sent to kill Kubo’s father before he could find the three pieces of a set of magical armor. Instead, Kubo’s mother fell in love with his father and made enemies of her sisters and father.
One night Kubo stays out after dark and by the light of the moon the sisters find Kubo after searching for many years. Kubo’s mother uses the last of her magic to send Kubo far away from her sisters. Kubo’s grandfather had already stolen Kubo’s left eye, and the sisters want his other eye. Kubo’s mother tells him that he must collect all three pieces of the magical armor to be able to defeat his grandfather.
Kubo’s mother provides Kubo with a talking monkey to assist Kubo in his quest to collect the armor and defeat his grandfather. Along the way Kubo and Monkey happen across Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a man who had been turned into a giant beetle. Beetle had lost most of his memory, but believes that he once fought as a soldier for Kubo’s father, so he joins Kubo and Monkey on their quest.
“Kubo” is a stop-motion animated film. This means that the animation is not fluid and seamless, but is sometimes halting and jerky. As an example of this animation style, one of the most recent movies filmed this way was “Boxtrolls.” While this type of animation is costly and time consuming, it doesn’t make for good cinema.
The basic standard for quality of a movie geared toward kids is the level of humor. If there are many laughs a movie of this type will be deemed a success no matter if everything else about the movie is sub-par. Using that standard, “Kubo” falls flat on its face. It’s not funny. Sure, there are a few clever moments that may elicit a grin, but there’s nothing truly funny in the entire movie.
The basic story behind the animation is decent: a young boy goes on a quest to vanquish his enemies. One thing that makes the story unusual is that Kubo is being chased by his only living family. They don’t want to kill him, but to take his remaining eye. The story falls flat near the end when the reason the grandfather wants Kubo’s eye is less than fulfilling.
Perhaps the biggest problem with “Kubo” is that the movie was not entertaining at all. Many times I found myself checking the time on my watch in a dark theater. Other times my mind kept drifting to anything other than the movie. “Kubo” doesn’t hold your attention.
In short, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is boring, uninspiring animation that doesn’t appeal to people of any age. Save your money.
Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, action, and peril.