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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Kubo and the Two Strings is an adventure from LAIKA Animation, the studio behind Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and Corpse Bride. Like those films, it has more darkness and edge than many average kids' movies and is best suited for tweens and older, rather than the preschool and early-elementary set. It has scary characters and epic battles that can be quite intense and that lead to character injuries, an entire village burning (though the villagers survive), and even deaths. Language is limited to a few insults ("stupid," "idiot," etc.) and romance to a couple of embraces and references to a past love story. Despite the peril, this epic adventure set in an alternative fantasy Japan has strong themes of courage and teamwork. And at heart, it's a mother-and-son love story, as well as the tale of a young artist learning how to be a hero.
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What's the story?
Set in a fantasy version of ancient Japan, KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS follows young Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson), a special one-eyed boy who can animate his origami characters by playing the shamisen, a stringed Japanese instrument. Kubo spends his days in the nearest village retelling epic adventures for money -- but he spends his nights caring for his ailing mother, who's hidden in an isolated cave. She's told him that he can't be seen out in the night's sky because his otherworldly grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), would return to Earth to kidnap him and take his other eye. When Kubo stays out too late one evening after a festival to honor the spirits of the dead, his mother protects him against her warrior sisters (Rooney Mara) and sends him on a journey to find the only thing that will keep him safe: his father's magical armor. Guided by an encouraging Monkey (Charlize Theron) and helped by a samurai Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), Kubo must find the sword, breastplate, and helmet that will help him defeat his grandfather.
Is it any good?
Gorgeously animated and stirringly told, LAIKA Animation's hero's journey is an epic tale of courage, the love between mothers and sons, and the magic of a good story. 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 -- and it shows. The hybrid of stop-action and computer-generated animation is breathtakingly detailed but always keeps its emphasis on the colorful characters. Theron and McConaughey share a lovely chemistry with Parkinson, and their vocal performances range from powerful to gentle to playful. In lesser hands, a monkey called Monkey and a beetle called Beetle could have been corny, but these supporting characters -- particularly Monkey -- are layered, fierce, and completely necessary to Kubo's life-changing journey.
Knight and his masterful crew of puppeteers, costume designers, riggers, animators, and more have created a story that's emotional and memorable -- at once fantastical and familiar. Kubo, with his one eye, is impossible not to love. He's artistic and loving, attentive to his near-catatonic mom, kind to the villagers, and brave enough to stand up to the supernatural forces trying to strip him of his humanity. The buddy-flick aspects with Monkey and Beetle are delightful (as moviegoers know, McConaughey can convey so much with just a few words), while the fight sequences are admittedly nail-biting affairs. Worth noting is how gripping composer Dario Marianelli's score is, especially his unforgettable arrangement of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," sung by Regina Spektor. Kubo and the Two Strings is a deeply affecting movie that will make audiences laugh, cry, and cheer.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about which parts of Kubo and the Two Strings were frightening. Is the violence necessary to the story? How much scary stuff can kids handle in movies?
What audience do you think the movie is intended for? Is it too scary for younger kids? What other aspects of the movie make it more mature than the average kids' flick?
How does the movie depict the importance of storytelling? How does Kubo bring joy to his village?
Discuss how the music, and even the choice of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," affects and reflects the story.
- In theaters: August 19, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: November 22, 2016
- Cast: Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Matthew McConaughey, Art Parkinson
- Director: Travis Knight
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures
- Character strengths: Courage, Empathy, Teamwork
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, scary images, action and peril
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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