PG...for scaring the living crap out of my kids. This one is actually pretty scary. Nice job, whatever company it is that makes puppets that scare the crap out of kids. Nice job.
DIRECTOR: Travis Knight
Like, I can't stress this enough. My kids haven't talked about it afterwards because I showed them an episode of Furchester Hotel afterwards (a Sesame Street spin-off for the uninitiated), but these kids cuddled real hard. Henry was shaking and I had to audibly cheer for Kubo as he fought some absolutely terrifying monsters. I'm not saying it's bad, but I might glare at the fine folks at Laika for absolutely frightening my kids. What's that, you say? I'm the parent? Do you know what stopping a scary movie midway does to a kid. It's like The Ring. You need to finish the quest to survive. I never got over my fear of Judge Doom until I finished Who Framed Roger Rabbit? without covering my eyes. That's the way the world works. Besides, they seem good now. For some reason, they are now scared of Trolls. Go figure.
First and foremost, Laika knows how to make a pretty stop motion movie. Paranorman was one of my favorite animated movies of the past decade. While I could forget The Boxtrolls, the level of commitment that the artists put into their work is just stunning. It was a really smart move to use paper as a motif in the film. After seeing Disney's "Paperman" short from a few years ago, to gorgeousness of paper moving in the wind sells itself really. Laika and Travis Knight pushed the imagery further, giving the paper multiple personalities based on the surrounding content. I adored how the paper moved to match Kubo's personality. The only thing that was really constant about the movement of the paper was the fact that it was always magical and full of majesty. I kept shouting out, "He's gonna do something with paper guys" and the three of us just kept our eyes peeled to the screen, waiting to see how the next magic trick was going to play out. But the paper wouldn't have worked without the entire world created by the animators. I pity many animators today. While the use of computers and editing software has made some aspects of animation easier, the attention to detail in these movies is unforgiving. It seems like each movie is trying to outdo the other films' world-building efforts. The richness and texture of this movie really puts my general dislike of The Boxtrolls out of my head. The world is rich and soulful and paper should interact with this world of nature.
The movie is weird, though. I like complicated movies and I like when the story gets weird, but this might not exactly mesh with its audience. I know one of my students adores this movie, but she is also a high school student who loves complex sci-fi fantasy. I'm trying to discuss these moments with my two and five year old and they are just looking at the fun action scenes. The world is not alien and bizarre, but it also isn't easy. Again, I can't stress enough that a movie has to be easy, but I also know that my daughter might have been way more into had she been able to summarize the major plot points to me afterwards. I think the movie, through its own attempt to be more than simply a series of action sequences strung together, became exactly that. My kids fidgeted and grew restless for the periods of intense plot development, giggled at Matthew McConaughey's jokes, and then trembled at the scary scary fight sequences. I found myself stopping the movie, asking if they knew what was going on, and trying my best to adapt this dense plot into something far more accessible. I don't love that in kids's movies. My movies? Fine. Kids? Not so much.
George Takei said, "Oh my." That pulled me out for a sec.
The movie gets more right than it does wrong. Kubo and his team are all wildly relatable, even if their quest and plot seem foreign and bizarre. I thought it odd to start the movie with a kid with one eye. The one eye isn't the problem. It's how he lost it. Light spoilers: his grandfather pulled it out. But I liked Kubo. I liked his approach to the world. I also loved that his big weapon was a stringed instrument that controlled the world around him. Yes, Kubo does get quite violent, especially once he gets his hands on a sword. But the movie has the theme of art and passion as the greatest weapons of all. Again, I don't really get the relationship of the grandfather and his quest for Kubo's other eye, but there's something beautiful there if you can ignore the absolutely banana's storyline.
There was one thing that really bothered me and it goes into major spoiler territory. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. I don't know if I morally approve of the ending of the movie. I'm talking about the lying to the grandfather and the strange reconditioning of the villain. That seemed a little bit evil. Yeah, part of my psyche acknowledged that ignorance was bliss and that it would serve far better than a jail that could not possibly hold him, but didn't that seem a little sketch. There were kids making up stories about how good this man was and he believed it. No one had any compunction about lying to this man. I know I killjoy everything, but I don't know if I like the idea that the truth wouldn't set him free. Wouldn't it have been more impressive had the villagers told him the truth, forgiven him, and taught him how to love again? It felt like they were stripping him of his free will and is personality. It all felt very A Clockwork Orange and with the violence already present in this questionably PG movie, I had to naturally make the connection.
I love Laika. I just wish that they had the staying power of a Disney film. I don't know if I'll ever return to Kubo and the Two Strings, even though I enjoyed it quite a bit. I don't think its the lack of songs, (besides the closing version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by Regina Spektor), but there's something missing when it comes to rewatchabilty of these movies. The movie is fun, but the Disney charm just isn't there. I have to point out that, even though I won't shut up about Disney, I am worried that Disney has brainwashed me. I'm never going to be a superfan or even a fan, but I always feel like applauding them and using them as a pace car for ever kids movie that is released. I want to love this movie and part of me really does. I just don't want to ever revisit it gain.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.