kubo and the two strings film review stop-motion animotion

“Pay careful attention to everything you see, no matter how unusual it may seem. If you look away, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish.”

11 years ago, Kubo (Art Parkinson) and his mother barely survived fleeing an attack by her father Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and her sisters (both voiced by Rooney Mara). Kubo’s father, a warrior named Hanzo, died whilst helping them escape. Every day Kubo goes to the nearby village to tell epic tales – sagas involving warriors, monsters and revenge – whilst bringing the stories to life through origami that moves to the music Kubo plays on his shamisen. One night he is found by his aunts and his mother arrives to fight them – she sends Kubo away and into the protection of Monkey (Charlize Theron). The pair soon meet Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) and the newly-formed trio begin a quest to locate the magical armour that will help them defeat the Moon King once and for all.


Writing that plot summary was exceptionally hard as I wanted to balance telling you enough to make you want to see it along with withholding enough of the magic. There’s also the fact that I utterly adored the movie and am fearful that once I start telling you about all the lovely/wonderful/spell-binding moments I might never stop. Suffice to say ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is a magical movie – an astonishing display of the power and depth of stop-motion animation. From the first shot you are fully immersed in this world, of fantastical Japan, and will feel bereft when you are forced to leave.

Each and every scene possess astonishing beauty – only one watch does not do the film justice as the incredible amount of detail warrants multiple watches. The use of colour, the movement of every single feature and the texture of every lovingly made object. It’s a regularly breathtaking watch. The story itself is dark, regularly twisted  and occasionally scary – it would serve well as part of a double-bill along with Coraline. Both share the motif of eyes – how they serve as symbols for our souls and who we really are. Also like Coraline it’s a modern-day fairytale that works well for both children and adults. Kubo and the Two Strings  is incredibly funny with a multitude of one-liners and slapstick which means that everyone will find something that appeals.


Then there are the characters – all so lovely, well rounded and well developed. Kubo is both a hero-in-training and a teenager – he successfully sways between both statuses. You truly root for him to succeed and end up being fully captivated by both his story and those that he tells. He’s charming and sweet, yet regularly frustrated and happy to escape into fantasy – essentially like any tweenage boy! Theron as Monkey is a forceful female figure who truly cares about Kubo – think of her as a chocolate praline, hard shell with a soft inner. She delivers some of the best gags with a blend of cynicism and world-weariness that is utterly winning. According to IMDB this appears to be McConaughey’s only animated movie aside from a one-off role in King of the Hill and the much-anticipated January release, Sing. He is magnificent in the role of Beetle, bringing a naivety and optimism that balances as opposed to counters the stoicism of Monkey. His delivery of the line “I have a question. If I’m Beetle and you’re Monkey, why isn’t he called Boy?” is an example of comedic perfection.

So, to sum up. I think it’s the best animated movie of 2016. It’s dark, hilarious sweet, lovely, dark, gorgeous, melancholy, dark, thrilling, bold and dreamlike. A triumph.

Rating: 5/5

Dir: Travis Knight
Scr: Marc Haimes, Chris Butler
Cast: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro, Rooney Mara, Matthew McConaughey
Prd: Travis Knight, Arianne Sutner
DOP: Frank Passingham
Music: Dario Marianelli
Country: United States
Year: 2016
Runtime: 102 Minutes

Kobo and the Two Strings is available on digital 2nd January, DVD and Blu-Ray 16th January.

By Charlotte Harrison

Secondary school teacher by day, writer of all things film by night. All round superhero 24/7.