I actually saw this movie right when it came out, back in August. I had some mixed feelings, though, and couldn’t really go into them without spoiling the movie completely. (one which note, Spoiler Alert!) I dithered about that long enough that I completely forgot to review it at all. Now, I hope to correct that little mistake.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a fairly good movie, unquestionably. I had at least one friend practically raving about it practically the same moment it was released in theaters. But I have some issues with it.
The story is generally very good, an enchanting tale with lovable characters, particularly Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle. I especially liked the recurring theme of storytelling itself and the difficulty of creating a proper happy ending. That not only appealed to me as an amateur storyteller, it reflected the difficulty Kubo faced in making his own story end happily. But with all of that talk about endings, they really needed to deliver a fantastic one. In that, they failed. Details follow (and thus the Soiler Alert!).
Did I mention the Spoilers soon to follow? Turn back now, all ye who would avoid them!
Ok, let’s plunge ahead, then.
Kubo, the young protagonist, suffered terrible tragedy practically the moment he was born. His father was killed, his father’s army destroyed, his mother suffered a terrible injury to her head, and Kubo himself lost an eye, all to his grandfather, the Moon King. It was a rough childhood, hiding from the moon in a cave, taking care of his fading mother, and making his living by telling stories in the village. Then stuff happens, he gets found by the moon, and his mother gives her life getting him to safety. The threat, by the way, is her own sisters, who do not hesitate to cut her down, along with reducing the village to rubble.
Yeah. Family feud, Japanese style. Very brutal.
Kubo finds himself in a remote place, with two unusual guardians, a talking monkey and a beetle-like samurai, named, creatively enough, Monkey and Beetle. They guard him as he goes on a dangerous quest, to find and assemble a suit of samurai armor, with mystical power, that will let him challenged the Moon King directly. The only guide they have is an animated origami statue (that’s Kubo’s magic power), directing them to each piece of the armor.
They pass through two trials with difficulty, but none the worse for wear, and then everything goes to crap. Why? Because after finding two pieces of armor in one way, Kubo blindly trusts a man who is obviously the Moon King visiting him in his dream, and walks into a trap. Cue the demises of Monkey and Beetle, leaving Kubo to fight alone. Why? Because they decided to have some tender words in the middle of a fight to the death. Stupid, much?
It gets even better: Monkey is actually a wood carving, animated by his mother’s soul. So, it’s his mother. And Beetle is the transformed result of a cruel bit of magic cast upon his father. So, it’s his father. He just barely manages to meet his parents for the first time, and they’re killed. By his aunt. At the direction of his grandfather. Oh, and Monkey killed one of her sisters, too. And all of this because 1) a samurai sought the mystical armor, 2) a celestial maiden was sent to kill him, and 3) they fell in love instead.
No offense intended, but that would have really sucked for the samurai’s retainers, getting slaughtered because first their boss was ambitious and then he married an enemy.
Do I sound a little worked up over this? Perhaps I am. I have this… thing… with family feuds. I hate when families are broken, and this story had a lethal example of such. And why was Kubo being hunted by his mother’s family? Because his elderly grandfather was foolish and blind to the wonders of the mortal world, seeing only the horrors of pain and death, though he had no problem inflicting such on his own daughter, and using her own sisters to do so.
Coming up to the end, I can appreciate Kubo’s circular journey back to where he came from in order to find what he needed to win the last contest with the Moon King. Now here, I admit, I didn’t want the feud to end in bloodshed. Kubo is just a boy, after all, and having his grandfather’s death on his hands, after so much loss already, could throw him into agony. But I didn’t like what they did instead either.
They had the village ancestors return somehow, creating a shield somehow, and when the Moon King charged in, Kubo’s magic was used to give the Moon King one working eye… and wiping his memory.
So, the family feud ends by making the old man see.
But something about making someone “better” like that just really irritates me. Not to mention how it legitimizes the mistaken perspective of many youth, that they somehow see and know more than their elders, and the elders are willfully blind, and need to be made to “see.” You see how twisted that message can get? We have enough problems with rebellious youth these days as it is, we don’t need to validate that attitude in an epic fantasy.
So, I enjoyed most of the film, really, I did, but the ending really left something to be desired, at least in my case.
I do have to say, in due fairness, that the style, the story, the acting, the music, the crafting of this movie, were all done superbly well. And, really, one only gets this passionate in either agreement or disagreement when the story has been well told and the subject matter is worthy of attention. So, again, due props to the people who made this movie.
I simply found the ending to be a huge letdown.
…well, ok, I amend that. I found the resolution to be a huge letdown.
I do admit, seeing Kubo in that final scene, with the spirits of his parents, restored to their full glory, standing beside him… well, it was most touching. He has lost them, more than once, and yet, they are still with him. Even in death, they love him still.
So, I am giving Kubo and the Two Strings (the title refers to two strands of hair, one from each parent, which he strums on his musical instrument, unleashing powerful magic) a higher score than one might think, based on what I’ve said about it. It might be a little bit of generosity.
Rating: 8 stars out of 10.