It’s time for another 2016 film to add to my list. I feel pretty modern after having watched so many of the recent hits. Kubo’s the first stop motion film that I’ve seen in quite a while. It’s still not my favorite style to say the least, but I do think that the film pushed the style as far as it could. The battles scenes are certainly the best that I’ve seen and this one definitely takes the crown as the best film of its kind. Prepare for a rather quick beginning as the best character takes the stage.
The film starts off with Sariatu fleeing from the villains, but her son Kubo’s eye is still taken. Kubo’s grandfather wants the other eye for certain reasons and Sariatu is determined not to let him get it. For years, the two of them hide in a cave in a fairly isolated area and Kubo grows up while knowing just one rule- Never stay outside past nightfall. If he ever does this, the villains will spot him and they will come to take him down for good. Kubo obeys this rule for a few years as he goes outside to entertain the inhabitants with his telepathic paper abilities, but one day he takes a little too long. He made a detour to engage in the paper lantern ritual and the villains find him.
The villains in particular are the two Aunts. They are the highlights of the film and their entrance is amazing. Their designs are easily the scariest in the film and I’d also say that they are the strongest villainss. Sariatu is basically said to be stronger than them, but they have the numbers advantage and Sariatu was seriously injured during her big fall in the intro. After the villains make their move and take Sariatu out, Kubo must now find the legendary items from his story in real life. Once he has assembled the invincible armor, he can defeat his Grandfather…the Moon King!
As I mentioned, the film starts off really quickly. It can be a double edged sword when you use up what could be the best scene in the film so quickly, but it is a surefire way to engage the audience. I knew that the Aunts would be my favorite character once they showed up and started taking names. Kubo was completely outmatched and the visuals for this really captured the intimidating aura that the villains wielded. The Aunt also returned for a second fight scene, which is the other contender for best scene in the film. She easily holds her own against Beetle, Monkey, and Kubo all teaming up. Her skills are certainly formidable and it’s a shame that she could not have appeared more. Her presence was definitely felt throughout the film though.
I was surprised at the fight scenes in general because I really wasn’t expecting all that much. Coraline and Nine are really the only other big stop motion films that I’ve seen, but neither of them really had fight scenes because it’s hard to do in this style. At the very least, you wouldn’t expect hand to hand fights with energy effects, but this one pulled it off. Whenever an energy blast or energy attack would appear, the animation could really shine. I’m not sure exactly how that works, but I imagine that they add CGI on top of the animation or use an advanced form of Movie Maker to throw the effects on top of what they filmed. Regardless, I’d say that it worked very smoothly and it definitely did help to amp up the experience.
The second half does slow down a bit compared to the beginning. After seeing the two Aunts, it’s hard to go back to trekking through the areas and fighting large monsters. I’ll admit that I was a little dismayed when the Moon King decided to shed his really cool human form in favor of that of a giant monster. It was instantly a downgrade and of course Kubo was able to slice and dice him. The Moon King should have had more confidence in his own abilities. It never gets all that slow though as every major part still adds in an action scene. The opening had the first Aunt moment, the middle had the rematch, and the ending had the battle against The Moon King. Overall I’d say that the pacing is pretty good.
Kubo is a good main character. It may have been a bit naive of him to stay out so late after all of the warnings, but maybe he was just ready for a status quo change. He certainly got that if this was the case. He acted like an ingrate for a while after meeting up with the Monkey, but eventually he got better. I also don’t totally blame him since the Monkey was being pretty mean for no reason towards the beginning. When the going got tough, Kubo took out his sword and steeled himself for battle. I’d definitely say that he did pretty good. He’s not as charismatic as the lead from Zootopia, but I’ll take him over Dory.
Sariatu is certainly strong and probably one of the stronger mothers from recent films. It’s a shame that we couldn’t get to see her fight more while at full power since she was evidently powerful. I didn’t totally get her long coma like appearances though. Especially given her later scenes and twists. I guess the injury was so bad that she had to go into those meditation esque moments, but it still felt rather odd. Certainly not her fault though and I’d say that she was the best hero.
The Monkey was a little on the annoying side. She talked tough and kept all of the vague answers to herself, but there wasn’t really much of a reason behind this. The Monkey gets a twist which actually makes the whole thing worse. Honestly, I think that the film shouldn’t have added the plot twist in. Not only does it not make any sense, but it makes all of the Monkey’s scenes out of character. The Monkey’s a good fighter though so she’s got that on her side.
Beetle barely needs any introduction as he is easily the absolute worst character in the game. It’s hard to emphasize just how bad this guy is. He’s the token comic relief character, but isn’t handled well at all and the plot twist just makes it even worse. The twist also hurts another character which is unfortunate. I just don’t know how the Beetle ended up being so bad. He can barely fight at all and he’s just annoying the whole time. He’s the kind of guy who feels like he’s always flirting and doesn’t really know boundaries so he just goes around annoying everyone. I grew tired of him minutes after he first showed up. He’s the only really bad character in the film so I was glad that he missed a lot of the first half.
Finally, we have the Moon King. He made for a pretty good main villain even if he made the risky move of turning into a giant monster. I definitely don’t recommend trying something like that when you go up against a serious main character. His motivations were a little strange. He wanted the eye so Kubo would join him in the afterlife and become a god of sorts, but in the opening scenes it seemed like he just wanted the eyes so he could see again. Is it just a coincidence that he had one eye when he first showed up? I figured that he had stolen Kubo’s so he could see again. Regardless, he was interesting and certainly strong. The scene where he just walks through the sword stab was definitely pretty hype and was sort of like a Superman moment.
Overall, Kubo and the Two Strings is a film that I definitely recommend. It has more action than you would expect and that’s always a big plus for me. It may not be the best animated feature of 2016, but from the theater ones that I’ve reviewed, it’s easily the most epic. I don’t recall any of the others having large scale mystical fights in the dead of night against denizens of evil after all. I want to see more action animated films in theaters so hopefully this one can pave the way for that.