“If you must blink, do it now.”
“Kubo and the Two Strings” boldly opens on a dare to the audience. It could also be taken as a piece of advice because you won’t want to shut your eyes during this one. Stop-motion veterans Laika Animation, who brought us modern classics like “Coraline” and “The Corpse Bride,” have put out their best film yet.
“Kubo” is a classic hero’s journey tale rooted in Japanese folklore. The titular character lives in a cave with his mother on the edge of a village. By day Kubo travels to the village to tell stories aided by his magical instrument and origami. His mother tells him he must be home by nightfall or else his evil grandfather, responsible for stealing one of Kubo’s eyes, will find him.
When the worst happens, Kubo must find the three magical pieces of armor his father died trying to collect. Along the way, he befriends a stern but caring monkey and a samurai warrior with amnesia transformed into a beetle.
Kubo’s adventure sees him travel through lush, lovingly-created landscapes and introduces him to a set of lively characters. The beautiful animation has a grounded feel to it no matter how fantastical it can get, thanks to its use of tangible objects. For example, the water is made in part by using shower curtains.
The story also manages to stay thematically grounded and relatable throughout. At its heart, “Kubo” is a story about family. It also manages to tackle some heavy themes like memory and mortality with grace where less experienced story tellers would stumble.
The film’s pacing suffers a bit toward the middle. Some interesting ideas were introduced, but weren’t given as much screen time as they deserved.
“Kubo and the Two Strings” is a smart, heartwarming tale with a surprising amount of depth to it for a “children’s movie”. It’s one of those special movies that has something in it for all ages. As kids grow, they’ll be able to keep coming back to this one to find something new.