Kubo and the Two Strings
By Sandie Angulo Chen,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Beautiful epic about storytelling hero can be dark, scary.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
You're the hero of your own story. The people we love are never completely gone, because they live in our memories and our stories about them. Your story will live on even after you're gone. Courage, teamwork, and empathy are strong themes.
Positive Role Models
Kubo is loving, brave, and kind. He's a talented storyteller, a devoted son, and a courageous hero once he has to go on his journey. Mother isn't always lucid, but when it counts, she's loving and protective of her son, using her magic to save him. Monkey is a fabulous female role model; she's not human, but she's assertive, brave, and encouraging. She doesn't talk down to Kubo and helps him understand he must prepare to defend himself. Beetle is loyal and protective of Kubo and Monkey.
Violence & Scariness
From the opening scene, there's peril and violence in the story. Characters are injured and die. Kubo's eye was stolen by his grandfather, and his father was killed. The fights between the Sisters and Mother and later the Sisters and Monkey, Beetle, and Kubo are intense. Beetle is unexpectedly stabbed in the back after a battle is seemingly over. The huge, scary skeleton almost eats Kubo and his friends, and Kubo almost drowns in another sequence because of hypnotizing sea creatures. The Moon King turns into a frightening giant serpent. An entire village is burned down, but most of the villagers survive the fire. Kubo and his mom wash away upon a shore to hide, and his mom hits herself on the head. The scene in which Kubo is spotted is spooky; his masked aunts say his name in a really eerie way.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Kubo's mom recalls how she and his father met and fell in love. In between bickering, Monkey and Beetle flirt a bit, and she gives him a soothing massage.
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Occasional insults like "stupid," "idiot," "an embarrassment," and "weak." Swear stand-ins like "ohhh foot!"
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Products & Purchases
Nothing in the film itself, but plenty of real-life merchandise/promotional tie-ins.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A villager smokes a pipe.
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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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Kubo and the Two Strings
Based on 51 parent reviews
All white voice actors
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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?
How does Kubo demonstrate courage? Why is that an important character strength? What role do empathy, perseverance, and communication play in the story, too?
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
- Award: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: April 1, 2023
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