So, decided I might as well try this. Let me know if you want more!
I may be a twenty four year old man with an awesome beard, but that doesn't stop most of my favorite movies from being animated kids films! I think Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, and Kung-Fu Panda are some of the best movies that have come out in recent years, and you still can't beat the old classics like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. When I saw the trailers for Kubo and the Two Strings, I immediately knew that I had see this movie. The animation looked like claymation out of a Tim Burton film, the plot seemed interesting, the characters were funny, and it seemed to do what a lot of animated movies fail at: taking its conflict seriously. I went into the theater expecting to witness the greatest animated movie of the year, but I came out... well, I wasn't disappointed, per se, but I wasn't blown away either. Why? Let's take a look!
(Warning, this review will be spoilerific!)
Kubo is a one-eyed young boy being raised by his disabled mother in a cave by the sea. When she is lucid, his mother always makes him abide by two rules: always carry his wooden money charm with him, and never stay out after dark. Kubo's mother is one of the three daughters of the moon king, who fell in love with the human warrior Hanzo, and he is determined to bring his grandson to the heavens to rule over the earth with cold hearted apathy. When Kubo breaks those rules, his two aunts finally catch up to him, sending Kubo on a journey to find the sword, armor, and helmet that can kill the moon king. Protected by a cranky talking baboon and a wisecracking man-sized beetle, Kubo will have to hone his magical powers over paper to defeat his grandfather.
So, first of all, the good: the movie is great. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The animation is amazing to look at, the soundtrack is epic, and all the characters are likable in their own way. Kubo manages to be a bratty kid without going too far and becoming annoying, Monkey is endearing in a grumpy-yet-caring way, and Beetle is hilarious. Seriously, Beetle is my spirit animal. These three characters are what give the movie its soul, and I loved every minute of it.
The fight scenes are spectacular too. Each character fights with their own unique style, and atmosphere is always ratcheted up to new heights. The soundtrack absolutely kills it! A lot of these are on par with the Kung Fu Panda movies, which I've considered for a long time to be the pinnacle of animated action movies-- no small feet for claymation!
So, between the fun characters, great animation, and epic soundtrack, what could their possibly be left to disappoint me? Well unfortunately... the story.
Now don't get me wrong, Kubo and the Two Strings tells a good story, but that's because of the characters, not the plot itself. Take a good look at the script, and you'll find it full of plot holes, deus ex mahcinas, and way too convenient coincidences.
(Warning: this is where the spoilers start!)
All right, this is going to be a long list. Where should I start? I guess my biggest issue is with Kubo's powers. Both he and his mother are shown to have magic powers over paper. I'm fine with that, I really am. The problem is, these powers are never explained. Supposedly they have these powers because they're either celestial beings, or the descendants of celestial beings. If that's the case, why paper? Kubo's aunts and the Moon King pretty much do whatever they want, so why are Kubo and his mom limited to paper? It's not because they're choosing to only use paper, because when they use their powers in their sleep they still only affect paper. Again, I would have been fine with this, except that their powers aren't consistent. We see both Kubo and his mom using their magic lyres (I'm assuming it's a lyre but I'm too lazy to check) to blow people away with Inception bwaaams. Worst of all, in the final battle, Kubo uses his lyre to turn the Moon King human and erase his memories.
You see, my favorite author, Brandon Sanderon has a saying: "An author's ability to solve conflict with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic." That means, if we don't understand how the magic works, you can't use it to solve problems. This is the case for Kubo. He controls paper. Fine. But how does controlling paper translate to turning gods into mortal humans, restoring their eyesight, and erasing their memories? It doesn't. The scriptwriters wanted the fight to end a certain way, but no feasible method to make it happen, so they resorted to just... making it happen. If you want an explanation, they wave their hands and say, "Wooo, it's MAAAAAGIC!" It's a deus ex machina, and it ruins what could have otherwise been an awesome climax.
Also, how does the lyre tie in to all this? Why can they only do their magic when they're playing? No answers. Just pretty lights.
Secondly, while we're on the topic of the final battle, why did Kubo turn the Moon King human? Kubo explicitly states at the beginning of the fight that he's going to kill him, and Moonie does absolutely nothing but further antagonize him during the entire fight. What changed Kubo's mind and made him decide to give him such a merciful defeat? It's poetic, sure, but there has to be a reason for things to happen! Even if the magic used were to make sense, Kubo's actions still wouldn't.
Let's talk about Monkey. Big spoiler here, but its revealed about halfway through the movie that she's Kubo's mother, her soul transferred into the wooden monkey he always carries around. She doesn't want to tell Kubo at first because her magic is running out, and soon she'll pass away, meaning Kubo would have to lose her a second time. That makes sense, but the way she treats him is not. Put simply, she's a jerk. She's a protective jerk who obviously cares for Kubo, but she's still pretty insensitive and unsympathetic. Keep who are a secret if you want, but if I were her I'd spend the last few days I had with my son being as nice to him as humanly (monkeyly?) possible.
The second problem here is that, while it was a cool twist, they used it too early. But we'll get to that later...
Now let's talk about Beetle! I love this guy. He's the comedic relief for the group, and he manages to do it without going into Jarjar Binks territory. Unfortunately, it's a good thing he's so likable because his existence in the story felt unjustified. First of all, Kubo and monkey just ran into him in the middle of nowhere. What a co-inkey-dink, eh? That's just lazy writing. Kubo and Monkey had a good reason for being together, Kubo was carrying the wooden monkey doll wherever he went. For Beetle, it's just too much of a coincidence. The writers wanted Beetle in the party, but didn't have a good way to make it happen, so they practically made him fall out of the sky.
Beetle Complaints 2.0! We find out later that he is, in fact, Kubo's father, Hanzo. Uuuuuggggghhhhh. First of all, why is he a beetle now? He says he was cursed? By who? I assume it was the Moon King or his daughters, but that just raises more questions? Why turn him into a beetle instead of just killing him? Is it because there's a beetle on his flag and the moon people just have a wicked sense of irony? If so, why leave him as a man sized, walking, talking beetle that can wear armor and fight and stuff? Why not turn him into a normal sized, helpless insect? Logic not this does.
Thirdly, as I said before, Monkey is Kubo's mom. This reveal happened halfway through the movie. What could have been a pretty cool twist feels wasted by being revealed so early. That means they have to top that later with an even bigger twist. That twist is... the exact same thing. Beetle is Kubo's dad, which we've already done, except now it makes even less sense. Not only is it much less impactful the second time around, it also lessens the impact of the first time they did it. What was originally an awesome twist about the identity of one of the main characters suddenly becomes a half baked attempted to get Kubo's parents together for a sappy reunion scene.
And then they kill them. So we get the perfect parent trifecta. The "I am your mother," the "I am your father," the "Parents getting back together," with a liberal helping of "Sorry, your parents are dead," as a bonus. The worst part is, they hardly focus on the death scenes at all. It just... happens. They die, Kubo bwaaams his aunt to death, and then he flies away. Where are the emotions? We, as the viewers, naturally feel what the main character, Kubo, is feeling. Making something this dramatic happen, and then having the main character apparently just brush it off effectively sucks all the emotion out of the moment. This is especially unforgivable because the entire rest of the movie is FILLED with emotion. Why did the writers skimp on the feels in the one moment when they mattered most? Whyyyyy?!
So, yeah, there's a lot wrong with this movie. Funny thing is, it succeeds despite itself. The characters are entertaining, the fights are awesome, and for what the story does, it does it well enough. No, it's not the mind blowingly awesome film I was hoping it would be, but it's not a bad one either. Would I watch it again? Definitely. I'll probably even buy it once it comes out on DVD. Would I say it's one of my favorite movies? No. It comes close, but the bad things keep it just shy of being put on my favorites list. That doesn't make it a bad movie by any means, but I still can't help but feel a certain level of disappointment when I think of all the ways it could have been something amazing.
Also, Monkey should be called Baboon. Is no one else going to point this out?
I give Kubo and the Two Strings a 6.5/10!
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