KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

BAFTA ~ Best Animated Feature Film

Directed by Travis Knight

Screenplay by Mark Haimes and Chris Butler

Story by Shannon Tindle and Mark Haimes

Music by Dario Marianelli

Cinematography by Frank Passingham

Film Editing by Christopher Murrie

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by George Harrison, Performed by Regina Spektor

 

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Extra Scenes: Animation of alternative scenes leading into beginning of the closing credits. Storyboards and artwork, including, “painting” of characters and scenes throughout the closing credits.

Kubo and the Two Strings is one of those films I knew I wanted to see, but there were always others to see and review and…and…and… Aaah! I have no excuse. Just like the millions of you out there who love animation and made it to Ratchet & Clank and Sausage Party, (I skipped both of those dogs.) but not Kubo,  I admit my shame. Now, I will attempt to atone by getting my review out in front of the Academy Awards, not much ahead, but still ahead.

Of course, I would like to point out that I am still protesting the inexcusable snub of Amy Adams, who should have been a lock on Best Actress For Arrival, which should also have earned best Film, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Emma Stone was too young and too silly in La La Land; she made it look like Ryan Gosling had to take his best friend’s little sister to the prom and was not enjoying it. Amy Adams wiped up the dance floor with her. Much as I love Ryan Gosling, and he put tremendous intensity into his role (learning incredibly complex jazz piano numbers!) into the whitest movie Hollywood his produced since the original Village of the Damned (wait for it…), it was not a patch on Casey Affleck in MBTS. But, Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood. Hollywood’s relationship with itself is creepier than Thomas and Lucille or Donald and– Ooops! *No Spoilers!*

I know I was talking about something totally unrelated… Let me look at the top of the review. Kubo! There have been complaints on some message boards that the story was meant for children; that is was too simplistic. Nope. I’m going to have to call shenanigans on that one.

It is a curse of being a fiction writer and seeing too many movies and TV shows — and not just the ones since I started reviewing a couple decades ago, but back to when everything was black & white and we liked it, damn it! — that I can see one of the three waves of trailers (didn’t know there are three, did you?) and a poster and tell you the plot and ending of a movie.

But that’s for MEblabs. The point is, I could see some of the plot points coming from a short distance away, once I was already introduced to the story, but not before the movie started. Kubo relies more on the Japanese tradition of oral history to pass stories from one person to another and one generation to another, very like the indigenous peoples of North America did and many still do. With that style of narration, it is hard for westerners to anticipate the next step in the story. So maybe these people did see all of it coming, or maybe they got to the end and thought pffft! that was a kids’ story. Who know? Who cares? I didn’t think I was too above it, so here are my views on a movie that impressed me greatly.

First, one little, niggling point: in a film about feudal era Japan, it is encouraging to see so many far-East Asians in the cast. It is discouraging that the producers felt that the lead characters needed to be played by big name westerners. Was it really necessary to call in Matthew McConaughey, who has one of the most recognisable and, let’s be honest, mocked voices in the world in for a Japanese character? The same goes for Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Brenda Vacarro, and Ralph Fiennes. They had George Takei right there in the cast and he can say more than, “Oh, myyyYYYyyyy!” They have a large pool of Asian performer right there, but chose to keep them for crowd scenes. What a waste! And wasn’t it a bit embarrassing to walk your occidental face into work every day past the other actors? Maybe they were kept separate.

If you haven’t seen the trailers, you have missed a glimpse at the magnificent blend of stop-motion and CGI that made ParaNorman and Coraline such visual feasts. Of course, with the passage of time, these techniques have gotten even better. The unique methods of storytelling are still a rich part of every frame, but the stop-motion and motion-capture used in Kubo are even smoother and the CGI barely perceptible. In this film where narration and storytelling is everything, the flow of the action is an almost flawless accompaniment to the words. The appearance is a seamless marriage of paper textures (the hair stands out) and shining metals and magic.

Kubo and his mother wash up on the shore of a small fishing village years ago and there they have stayed. They survive on the money people throw into his bowl as he tell his story every day, the story his mother told him of the night they escaped from her father, the Moon God and her two terrible sisters, how they slew Kubo’s father and stole the boy’s eye, and hunt for them still. As he tells his story, he plays on his shamisen (Here is something to dine out on for years: critics and entertainment writers who are not me are calling the instrument a guitar. but you know the real name. Ooo-de-lolly!) in the town square and his paper creations swirl in the air high above him, delighting the villagers.

But, he never finishes his story. Perhaps, the story has not come to an end yet. We learn quickly that the story is not finished with him, so  he must run, He must go on a quest to retrieve the one thing his long-dead father left for him, a suit of armour to protect him from the gods and monster now after the boy. The allegiant companions who come to fight by his side are an amazingly divers eccentric bunch. My favourite is only a few inches tall and has no lines, but the passion and determination is in his eyes, As you would expect, the beasts and villains sent to dispose of them are stunning concoctions of origami and CGI, each terrifying in its own way.

Enough plot, To tell more you be to give too much away, Let me just say that with each new challenge their is a lesson to be learned and the final one, as you might expect, is the hardest one of all. Full disclosure: it had me in tears. Fuller disclosure: I cry at commercials.

It is the gorgeous animation style that we should be talking about here and how that rare hybrid of stop-motion and hybrid that is carried out so seamlessly, in such a unique way that it is the first animated film since 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas to be nominated for Best Animated Feature Film and Best VFX. Like Jack Skellington’s timeless story before it, Kubo richly deserves the nomination. In the field of animation it is groundbreaking. When you seen paper folding and reshaping itself into incredibly complex figures you’ll understand what I mean. Without giving anything away, I can tell you the boat scene is worth twice the price of admission. Any scene in the film is worth the price of admission. If you liked Coraline and ParaNorman, you will love this tribute to origami and Japanese oral history. If you love animation or just a fine film you should appreciate Kobu,

So, with the Oscar noms out, what do I think in this category?

For one thing, My Life As A Zucchini is a foreign language film and there is a separate category for that: Best Foreign Language Film. Many would disagree, but if the Academy feels there is reason enough to pull foreign language feature films out to their own category, is it any less important for animated feature films? Some of the animated work coming out of other countries — Japan leaps to mind — that it merits its own Best Foreign Language Animated Feature Film. And all arguments aside, the film just looks pretty damn creepy, snake-clown creepy,

I adore the animation and clever humour that goes with Tamatoa, the giant hoarder crab in Moana. It is a fun film and anything set in the ocean is beautiful to me, plus it uses Pacific Islander legends. However, I have the same gripe with it as with Kubo; not enough people of that heritage in the lead roles, (Dwayne Johnson gets half-credit, of course.) Well, you know everything I have just had to say about Kubo and the Two Strings. Zootopia was lush and almost a visual scavenger hunt as the audience tried to take in all of the shifting areas and inhabitants. Plus, it had a genuine mystery that was the core of the plot, a mystery that Hopps and Wilde have very little time to solve, that is intended to entertain the adults in the audience and does. I dearly wanted to see The Red Turtle, but it played nowhere near here. And, like everyone else, I have to ask why Finding Dory was snubbed in this category. (My guess would be Shmoreign Shmanguage, But you didn’t hear it from me. You know what I mean.) Sooooo… I’m going to have to go with Kubo on this category, but with the admission I do not have all the information.

See how easy it is to admit that?