With a giant beetle, a talking monkey and a miniature origami paper samurai soldier all led by a one eyed, guitar strumming boy it all sounds like a group of superheroes conjured up by Stan Lee after a night of guzzling absinthe. Instead it’s another highly stylised experience from Laika films the studio that gave us ‘Coraline’,’ ParaNorman’ and ‘The Boxtrolls’ none of which really set the box office on fire like Pixar’s but nonetheless are distinctly different to warrant watching.
‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is a boy and his three string guitar which has powers of its own despite him strumming it with what looks like a wallpaper scraper and he lives high up in a mountain cave with his depressive mother who mourns the loss of her husband, Kubo’s father. It’s a theme of death that is a constant throughout the film and for that makes it an unusual and challenging film that seems to be for children but really is for adults. With Kubo’s mum sacrificing herself to save him from two vengeful spirits he finds himself orphaned but having to locate a suit of armour, a helmet and sword to defeat the same spirits. The fact that these spirits are two aunts and his grandfather makes this an uncomfortable view for children and the film has its fair share of intense scenes some of which are undoubtedly upsetting for young children. It’s something that even Disney seems to be doing now with the recent release of the live action ‘Pete’s Dragon’ having its fair share of traumatic moments and the plot, though straight forward, has a confusing back story regarding Kubo’s father and grandfather which is not sufficiently explained.
First time director Travis Knight, who has worked as an animator on many of Laika’s previous films, steps up to the plate here admirably and the animation at times looks like actual puppets that have been animated rather than stand alone traditional animation but even then it does include a stop motion scene with a monstrous giant skeleton which we’re treated to a brief behind the scenes look during the credits which is worth staying for and makes a change from the usual post credit teaser for any future films that most Marvel films seems to indulge themselves.
Typically with modern animation the film has used well known actors for the voices so we have Charlize Theron as a feisty monkey as well as Ralph Fiennes, George Takei and Rooney Mara who are all adequate in their roles but it’s Matthew McConaughey who is best of all as the Beetle character imaginatively named…um…..Beetle who gets many of the best lines although McConaughey sounds identical in his delivery and tone to George Clooney for the entire film. And again it’s yet another film in 3D which derives no benefit from being seen in that format.
Unfortunately the film has fared badly at the box office internationally which may be that, unlike Pixar whose films are for children but have enough for adults to enjoy that warrants repeat viewings, this is a film that, dealing as it does with death, may be just too dark for children.
Here’s the trailer: