Magic and Mysticism in Kubo

(Last Updated On: August 24, 2016)

Coming at the tail end of the summer movie season, Kubo and the Two Strings is a worthy effort that deserves not to be lost among the slew of animated features that have preceded it – many of which are still playing in theaters.

Taking its cues from Japanese fantasy and mythology, the film marks the feature directorial debut of producer (and former rapper!) Travis Knight, and tells the fable of its title character (voiced by Art Parkinson), a young boy with only one eye but a boundless imagination – which, needless to say, gets him into trouble.

This is very much a coming-of-age tale, as Kubo might brave countless perils – including his evil, ethereal aunts (both voiced by Rooney Mara) – until the inevitable confrontation with his own grandfather, the malevolent Moon King (voiced by Lord Voldemort himself, Ralph Fiennes), who plucked Kubo’s eye at birth and wants now the other.

Kubo, however, is not alone, being aided and advised by the wise Monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron) and the stalwart but forgetful Beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) in his quest.

Kubo and the Two Strings offers distinctive stopmotion animation, lending it a fascinating visual style (whether viewed in 2-D or 3-D), and is also – and appropriately — steeped in Japanese culture. The characters, their outfits and their surroundings are all distinctly Japanese. It retains the proper spirit by respecting it.

Some may question the selection of Western actors to voice the main characters, but it’s an understandable concession to box-office prospects. Parkinson, Theron and especially Mara are quite good, McConaughey’s and Brenda Vaccaro’s roles are a little heavy on shtick (another concession to Western audiences) but still amusing, although Fiennes – who likely voiced his entire role in a day – hasn’t much to do.

Nevertheless, George Takei and Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa are also vocal contributors, and many of the smaller roles and background voices are filled by Asian actors.

There are a few moments which may frighten small children, but this too is a distinctive – and not unwelcome – touch. Coming of age, especially in the realm of the supernatural, is a scary prospect, and Kubo must find it within himself to overcome those fears. It’s easy to cheer him on as he does so. !

MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2016, Mark Burger.