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Featured Blu-ray and DVD Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

November 21st, 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, or 3D Combo Pack
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Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings came out in the late summer and struggled at the box office, despite its nearly unanimously positive reviews. It wasn’t a bomb and was better than most Stop-Motion animated films at the box office, but that still meant it wasn’t seen by many moviegoers. Should it be seen by more? Or will it only appeal to the niche market fans of this animation style?

The Movie

The film begins with a woman, Sariatu, on a small boat trying to weather a powerful storm. Despite possessing some powerful magic, she is eventually thrown from her boat and washes up on shore with her young son, Kubo. She was trying to escape the boy’s grandfather, the Moon King, who had stolen one of Kubo’s eyes.

Many years later, Kubo has to take care of his mother, because she’s nearly catatonic much of the time. He provides for them by telling stories in a nearby village and uses his shamisen to magically animate origami figures. His story focuses on the great warrior Hanzo, who we later learn was his father. Hanzo had to battle many monsters in order to retrieve his weapon and armor he needs to stop the Moon King. He gets to the climactic battle when the bell rings and he runs back home. He has to return home before dark, because his mother warned him her sisters would attack him and try to get his other eye for the Moon King. While the story Kubo tells has Hanzo easily defeating all foes that the Moon King throws at him, in reality, Hanzo died defending Kubo and his mother from the Moon King and should Kubo be out under the night sky, he will surely be spotted.

He’s very good a heeding these warnings... however, the Obon festival comes around and Kubo learns from Kameyo that after sunset, there is a ceremony where people light lanterns in order to speak to dead ancestors. Getting a chance to speak to his father proves to be too much of a temptation for Kubo. When his father doesn’t show up, he loses track of time and isn’t able to get back home before sunset and his mother’s sisters show up to get his other eye. There’s a fight and Kubo’s mother sacrifices herself to save Kubo by using her magic to send him far away.

When Kubo comes to, he hears his mother’s voice, but it isn’t his mother, but Monkey, which is the monkey charm his mother made, only now it is alive. The pair of them have to find the sword and armor from Kubo’s story in order to protect him. They are quickly joined by the origami Hanzo. It can’t talk, but it does seem to know where to go. As they travel, they are followed by a strange creature, a giant humanoid beetle. It seems the beetle used to be human and while human, it trained under Hanzo. When he learns Kubo is Hanzo’s son, he dedicates himself to Kubo’s cause.

And with that, the adventuring party is complete.

While watching this movie, I was reminded of Cars. I think Cars is underrated, but it was the first Pixar film that wasn’t an instant classic. I realized it wasn’t a classic during the scene in which Lightning and Sally were driving through the local scenery and I thought to myself, “Wow. That must have taken ages to render.” I then realized that if the story had drawn me in as much as other Pixar films had, I wouldn’t have been focusing on the rendering time.

I bring this up, because multiple times while watching Kubo and the Two Strings, I was blown away with how difficult it must have been to film this with stop-motion animation. I would marvel at the technique and wonder how they did that, but this is a sign that I wasn’t as engaged with the story as I should have been. Granted the people at Laika are so talented when it comes to this style of animation and constantly push the boundaries of what can be done that even if the film had an Oscar-worthy story, I still would have marveled at the animation at least once or twice. Ideally, however, in big action scenes, I should be more concerned with how the characters will come out on top rather than how the animators created the spectacle.

That’s not to say the film is bad; in fact, it is still one of the better movies I’ve seen all year and there are many assets. For instance, it tells a story set in a time and place we rarely see in the media here. Also, the filmmakers did a lot of research in order to get the setting as accurate as possible. The story is surprisingly melancholic for a film with a giant talking beetle. Much of the opening act deals with Kubo trying to take care of his mother, while Kubo has to deal with loss of his own. It is these personal moments where the film is at its best and there is enough of them to be an effective film. I just wish it was this engaging throughout.

To emphasize, Kubo and the Two Strings is a great movie, but it can’t live up to its 97% positive Tomatometer Score.

The Extras

Extras begin with an audio commentary track with the director, Travis Knight. Up next is a multi-part, 28-minute long making of featurette. There’s a lot of CGI that goes into this movie. Corners of the Earth is a three-minute look at the world they created. The Myth of Kubo is a little shorter look at the epic scale of the movie.

The Verdict

Kubo and the Two Strings can’t live up to its reviews and it isn’t as good as Finding Dory or Zootopia are. That said, I would be stunned if it didn’t earn an Oscar nomination and the DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, or 3D Combo Pack is still a Pick of the Week contender. Also coming out this week is the Laika Box Set, which is also Pick of the Week material.

Filed under: Video Review, Finding Dory, Kubo and the Two Strings, Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, Bonnie Hunt, Rooney Mara, Brenda Vaccaro, Owen Wilson, Travis Knight, Art Parkinson