Kubo and the Two Strings, made by the same stop-motion animation studio that brought Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012), and The Boxtrolls (2014), opens with mesmerizing colors and breathtaking art. Kubo, a young boy with immense magical powers, uses his powers to entertain the town that he lives in, choosing to tell stories about evil moon kings and about the heroic samurai that saves the day. But stories always find their base in reality, and Kubo’s dead father is the samurai that he spins tales about.
After breaking one of his mother’s rules by staying out after dark, Kubo gets hunted down by the Moon King – his grandfather. Kubo’s mother sacrifices herself and sends Kubo away with the last of her magic, making an artistically beautiful scene as well as a heart wrenching one. Thrust into an unknown quest to gather his father’s legendary armor and defeat the Moon King once and for all, Kubo is accompanied by Monkey and Beetle, who turn out to be his mother and father respectively.
Kubo has an excellent exposition, choosing to tell the stories of the characters not through their words but by their actions and through the atmosphere of each scene. Colors play an important part in completing the mood of this movie, each color symbolizing something else. But sometimes, the colors can mean multiple items as the plot develops and characters overcome their own adversaries. For example, the Moon King is associated with the color silver, and the first time that Kubo sees him, his whole body is silver and meanancing. However, at the end of the movie when Kubo defeats his grandfather and chooses to accept and love him, the silver changes to mean warmth and comfort.
While Kubo has strong points, it also falls short in many aspects. With such a great start and absolutely fantastic ending, the middle of the story — which is the longest — has problems with its pacing. Kubo is a standard Hero’s Journey, but it spends too long on the fight sequences and not enough time developing the characters. Kubo himself is the center of attention, which fits with him being the main character, but the side characters — namely Monkey (his mother) and Beetle (his father, who was supposed to have died protecting Kubo and his mother) feel as if they are simply there for comedic relief and for an epic reveal that leads nowhere. While there are hints that Monkey and Beetle might not be exactly who they say they are, the true reveal is cut too short to hold any emotional substantiality.
While Kubo uses this grief as a catalyst for the final battle, Kubo as both the character and the movie deserved a better and more well-thought out second act. The second act is choppy and drawn out at best. In this case, less is more. With less action scenes that do nothing but raise the stakes and create monumental tension, the story chugs along slowly. Right as the third act rolls around and the pace is starting to make the movie captivating, the credits roll with beautiful version of Teardrops on my Guitar.
But with its faults, Kubo and the Two Strings is an entertaining movie that anyone can enjoy. The central theme of love and forgiveness is something that resonates within every person. With delicately crafted art as the icing on the cake, Kubo is worth the watch.