Review: ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is an impressive feat of stop-motion animation

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 102 minutes (~1.75 hours)

“Kubo and the Two Strings” is a 3D stop-motion animated fantasy action adventure film about a boy on a quest to gather the lost pieces of his father’s armour, in an attempt to prevent his demented grandfather from killing him. 

It features the voice talents of Art Parkinson (Kubo), Charlize Theron (Monkey), Matthew McConaughey (Beetle), Ralph Fiennes (the Moon King), and Rooney Mara (the Sisters). It is rated PG.

Although exams are just around the corner, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is perfect for the whole family, with its touching themes and fluid animation. It might seem like an overdone premise (do we really need another Western adaptation of Eastern culture in animated form?) but it’s one that’s executed well without fetishising the Japanese elements of the film. It’s only after the film ends that you realise the significance of the title, and how it plays into the theme of family and memories.

Highlights

Fluid animation

“Kubo and the Two String” may be stop-motion animation, but the actions are so smooth and seamless that you can hardly believe that this was done with physical objects, especially since they have three distinctly different movement styles to work with (human, monkey, and giant insect). 

The textures are similarly very well polished, with hardly any imperfections on the props or characters. The only deformities are intentional ones to show injuries and damage taken by the characters. It’s one of the most impressive feats of stop-motion out there.

Coming-of-age themes

At heart, Kubo (Art Parkinson) is lost, lonely boy who’s looking for his family to complete himself. His journey to make himself whole is one that everyone can identify with, especially since Kubo must learn to come to terms with his situation in order to grow as a person. 

As a character, he’s also easy to empathise with because he tries his best despite his circumstances. And when he finally matures (just in time to battle the final enemy), we feel that we’ve grown with him.

Interesting fight scenes

The fights take place across spectacular locations and with interestingly weird enemies, and the fact that they’re all choreographed through stop-motion makes them it even more awe-inspiring. 

Even though Kubo and his companions use magic, which is usually ill-defined and vague, you still instinctively understand their capabilities and limitations, meaning that the tension in the battles is real.

The twist in the tale

“Kubo and the Two Strings” has an unexpected twist that’s also rather heartbreaking when it occurs. 

But it’s this twist that fuels the emotional drive for the last Act, and gives Kubo a tangible reason to face his greatest challenge. Don’t think too much about it though, or you might find some inconsistencies in the story.

Letdowns

A lacklustre ending

Although most of the fights in the film are exciting and innovative, the final battle lacks the same magic. 

In terms of plot and emotion, it’s resolved satisfactorily. But the actual physical conflict leaves much to be desired, and the resolution to the battle is flat.

Still, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is one of the few times that the West has done Eastern culture some justice.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? Yes, unless you dislike animation.

Score: 3.75/5

“Kubo and the Two Strings” opens in cinemas:
- 8 September, 2016 (Singapore)
- 25 August, 2016 (Malaysia)
- 12 October, 2016 (Philippines)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. He Tweets/Instagrams at Optimarcus and writes at marcusgohmarcusgoh.com. The views expressed are his own.