Kubo and the Two Strings is a stop motion animated kids movie that’s kind of hampered by being a little overly ambitious for how dark a kids movie can be. The movie goes for it in terms of dealing with harsh emotional ideas, including death, but the way it balances that out by switching over to lighthearted jokiness doesn’t quite work. It’s a classic trick that kids movies use all the time (Particularly Disney) but it’s disappointing here because Kubo aims for greater heights, and those moments broke the flow and made me say to myself “Oh right, this is a movie for kids.”
There are times when the movie does effectively strikes a balance: Early on we see Kubo taking care of his mother who’s basically comatose. He talks to her, feeds her and then leaves her starring off in the horizon while he goes to town. In town he tells a rousing story of adventure using his magical origami powers to thrill a crowd. When he gets home as it gets dark his mother snaps too and we learn that not only is she lucid at night, but that the stories that Kubo tells in town are all stories she tells him. It’s great stuff; tragic and heartbreaking.
Kubo and the Two String was a little disappointing to me because it couldn’t maintain the high bar it set for itself over the course of the entire film. It ends up being very good instead of great. The ending in particular doesn’t quite work; I appreciate what they were going for but I don’t think they pulled it together. The movie seems to forget where it started by the end. (I even see an easy fix for that but I won’t get into it.)
The other high bar is the animation itself which looks great throughout. During the credits there’s a sequence where they show footage of the filmmakers setting up one of the puppets used in the movie and it’s very impressive. (Also surprisingly large even if it is of a large monster.)
I would have loved this movie as a kid. As an adult I see too many of the seems in the work (some of which I just want to grab and fix myself) to love it, but I still enjoyed it. If you’re down for a kids adventure movie I recommend Kubo and the Two Strings.