Director: Travis Knight
Producers: Travis Knight, Arianna Sutner
Writers: Marc Haimes, Chris Butler
Starring: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes
Plot: A young boy named Kubo (Parkinson), accompanied by two anthropomorphic animal companions Monkey and Beetle (Theron and McConaughey respectively), must use his family’s magic to stop some extended family members from unleashing evil power onto the world (with Mara as the voices of the Twin Sisters of Kubo’s mother Sariatu, and Fiennes as Kubo’s grandfather Raiden the Moon King).
*Warning: Spoilers ahead!*
“If you must blink, do it now!”
This film, at its core, is a rather touching story about the power of family and love (as clichéd as that might seem), also probably one of the few films where all protagonists AND antagonists are blood-related, so to speak. Who knows, maybe this movie will also go down as an emotional family-feud picture, only not everyone lives in the end to kiss and make up.
I could have done with more explanation as to how Kubo’s family magic works, including subduing his mother’s sisters or manipulating the folding and unfolding of all of those pieces of origami (not to mention after they’ve been folded, they can be unfolded without wrinkles, as if they were never folded in the first place). Are those sheets of paper the only ones that he has that can be controlled via Kubo’s shamisen magic? How about how a paper Honzo comes to life without Kubo’s conscious effort and begins helping Kubo? How did the real Honzo turn into a beetle without any memory of who he was, and how did Kubo’s mother Sariatu become transformed into a monkey? How did the Moon King enter Kubo’s dream to convince him to unknowingly walk into a trap? Magic is perhaps the one-word and only valid explanation, I guess.
In some ways, Kubo’s journey, along with Monkey and Beetle, feels like Homer’s “The Odyssey.” The adventure takes them through certain obstacles to navigate that only serve to put the protagonists to the test but, otherwise, don’t seem to have any plot-related purpose. Why are there giant eyeballs in the ocean that lure/seduce you when you look into the eyes? How/why is the missing sword planted on the skull of a giant skeleton that has some sort of booby-trap activation to attack whomever is nearby? On a more general note, how did all three pieces of Hanzo’s weapon and armor end up where they did? Why didn’t the spirits of Kubo’s parents show up at the end to help him fight the Moon King when Kubo himself used magic to summon spirits of the deceased?
Character-wise, Monkey and Beetle sort of complement each other in their different ways of looking after Kubo on his quest, much like Bagheera and Baloo are towards Mowgli in The Jungle Book. One is somewhat of a disciplinarian, strict on how to behave to stay strong and be safe, while the other is more of a comic-relief and laid back, making jokes and sometimes implying that the other should be more chill. In a way, it’s as if they’re both parents who have in common their love for their child, which probably doesn’t come off as surprising when it’s revealed that they are Kubo’s parents, Hanzo and Sariatu, incarnated.
It’s emotionally deep moments when you find out who Monkey and Beetle really are. After all, if people truly love one another, wouldn’t they end up together no matter what? Love conquers all, right? And with love, people will be able to eventually overcome all difficulties, will they not? But it wasn’t the revelation of who Monkey was that got to me, nor was it the revelation of who Beetle was. It was the ending that did: Kubo summons his parents’ spirits to appear beside him as he lights their lanterns to set in the water. Different people may interpret this differently, but to me, the message is plain and simple: those whom you love and who love you will always be with you in the end, even if they have died. *cue emotional music, or at least the movie track that plays in the ending*
Overall, I found the film emotionally fulfilling, something which many motion pictures these days apparently lack. It wasn’t a roller coaster ride popcorn flick; it wasn’t pumped with Mad Max Fury Road-style action; it wasn’t specials effects-ridden with a Stan Lee cameo. It’s a heartfully touching journey and adventure and a story for the family.
Verdict: see more than once and prepare to shed tears, especially at the end