Set in a fantastical Japan, this epic action-adventure is from director Travis Knight and the animation studio LAIKA, the folks behind “The Boxtrolls,” “ParaNorman,” and “Coraline.” Like those movies, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is beautifully animated (stop-motion), but includes some scary moments and frightening characters that might be too intense for young kids.
The story follows kind-hearted Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson, who plays Rickon Stark on HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), a young boy who ekes out a living spinning tales to the residents of his seaside town, including Hosato (George Takei), Hashi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and Kamekichi (Brenda Vaccaro).
But there’s a dark side to Kubo’s life. He also takes care of his mom, who still suffers emotional scars from something that happened previously. She reminds Kubo to never stay out after dark, but when he finds himself in just that situation, he accidentally summons a spirit from his past which threatens to enforce an age-old vendetta.
Now on the run, Kubo joins forces with Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), and sets out on a thrilling quest to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known. With the help of his shamisen – a magical musical instrument – Kubo must battle gods and monsters, including the vengeful Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and the evil twin Sisters (Rooney Mara) to unlock the secret of his legacy, reunite his family and fulfill his heroic destiny.
Director Travis Knight (LAIKA’s CEO) has said that “Kubo and the Two Strings” is a tribute to everything from Japanese wood-block painting and the ancient art of origami to the work of Akira Kurosawa and Steven Spielberg. It’s a beautiful story with gorgeous stop-motion animation. Theron and McConaughey have great voices to begin with – I especially love their fun banter – but especially paired with Parkinson as the central character.
As mentioned, though, “Kubo and the Two Strings” has some scary characters (floating ghost-sisters!) and intense themes, so I don’t recommend it for kids younger than nine years old.
PARENT OVERVIEW: Like LAIKA’s other films “Coraline,” “ParaNorman,” “The Boxtrolls” and “Corpse Bride,” “Kubo” is darker and edgier than most kids’ movies these days, and best suited for kids aged nine and older. It features frightening characters and epic battles that lead to character injuries and death, including an entire village burning. Language includes a few insults like “idiot” and “stupid,” and romance is limited to a few embraces and references to a past love story. Despite the peril, this epic adventure set in an alternative fantasy Japan includes strong themes of teamwork, family and courage. It’s a story of a mother and son’s love, as well as the tale of a young boy learning how to be a hero.
Reel Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Reels
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril
Released in Theaters: August 19, 2016
Best for Ages: 9+
Genre: Family, Animated
Runtime: 101 minutes
Directed by: Travis Knight
Studio: Focus Features
Cast: Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Matthew McConaughey, Art Parkinson
JANE’S REEL RATING SYSTEM
One Reel – Even the Force can’t save it.
Two Reels – Coulda been a contender.
Three Reels – Something to talk about.
Four Reels – You want the truth? Great flick!
Five Reels – Wow! The stuff dreams are made of.
Images in this review used courtesy of the studio and distributor.