“If you must blink, do it now.”
Like we needed you to tell us that.
Yeah it’s not bad. Wouldn’t say I thought it was quite the masterpiece others have made it out to be, but it’s better than the second batch of trailers led me to believe.
When I saw the first trailer for this film, the one with only music and no dialogue, it had me intrigued. It looked cool and stylish and fantastical, and it was nice to see an animation attempt at some studio other than Dreamworks or Pixar. On top of that, it’s nice to see a stop-motion film every now and then, even if the stop motion is just artificial, in that it’s CGI creating the illusion that you’re watching stop motion (no stop motion film ever moves this seamlessly with the animations), but I’ll take it.
Then the second trailer came where the characters opened their big mouths.
In all seriousness, the voices themselves aren’t bad, it’s just I believe this is the sort of film that works better visually than verbally. This is a tale that could’ve easily been told without exposition, letting the visuals do all the telling, and have the viewer ponder what they are witnessing and have them catch onto the story themselves. You know, like those Fantasia musicals, except Hollywood doesn’t like to give kids that much credit nowadays, or are too worried that making something THAT different will be a financial loss (as if they’ve never recovered from those before).
This film also could’ve used with one less dash of humor and one extra dash of solemness. As I feared, about half the humor didn’t hit and felt too forced, especially when the McConaughey beetle showed up. It just felt unnecessary. It’s a small step down from the earlier efforts of films from Laika Entertainment (The Boxtrolls, Coraline, Paranorman) in regards to a more serious tone, which disappoints me, because this is the only animation studio I know of that is willing to make more serious kid flicks with less emphasis on the humor, until now. Even if the jokes landed more often the film still would’ve been better with less of them.
Anyway, the musical score is nice. The guitar strings are borderline hypnotic, the monster designs are great, the flowing/morphing papers and leaves are smooth and elegant like the wind they travel on, and we have 2 freaky floating geisha mask chicks.
Oh yeah, speaking of geishas, it’s worth mentioning that there is a lot of Japan culture and mythology thrown into this. If the title of the movie (Kubo is a Japanese name) and the word Geisha aren’t enough, there’s also this theme of respecting your elders, honoring memories, the moon, a monkey, a beetle, and a dragon. There’s also a sly little bit where Kubo is intentionally slurping his soup to annoy the monkey, which seems rude in American culture, but is a compliment in Japanese culture. It’s also one of the few moments that works as humor for that reason. I have no doubt that there are other ancient Japanese cultural elements placed into the film that went over my head, such as the significance of one eye, or lack of eyes, seeing souls with them, the temple they visit, etc.
And regarding the “whitewashing” this film has in regards to the main cast voice actors who are not Japanese, while this film is in a Japanese setting, I honestly don’t give a shit. So that’s where I’ll leave that.
When I initially walked out of the theater after the film ended, I was dissatisfied with the ending at first. That it seemed too happy, that people are willing to forgive and accept so easily, and the wishing for a happy “ending” (emphasis on “ending”, something the film brings up off and on) and supposedly getting it. But then I thought about the dreamlike atmosphere of the final shot, the sudden fade into it, indicating that it may or may not be real. As the film hinted at early on, sometimes a story doesn’t have an ending written yet, and it is up to the audience to make up their own mind about the ending. Is this something Kubo is dreaming up? Is all of it dreamt up, none of it, or a mixture of both? It is up to you. Either way you look at it, the ending message remains the same, memories are powerful, are sacred, and are very much worth treasuring and passing down.
While this film is easily the most visually appealing that Laika Entertainment as created to date, their best work is still Coraline in my opinion. This one could’ve stood beside it if it remained as solemn as that film, and stuck with the visual powers accompanied by the fitting music and had less voicework. Consider the director’s intended version of The Thief and the Cobbler as opposed to the version Disney went with. But when all is said and done, despite falling short of its potential, it is still very much a magical fable worth experiencing.
PS: Kind of a deceptive title isn’t it? Shouldn’t it be three strings? Eh, might be some other cultural thing that flew over my head. 2 strings = 2 eyes = 2 parents = 2 memories. Would’ve made the 3 star rating more convenient if they changed the title.