I had a strange thought coming out of Kubo and the Two Strings, the latest glorious stop-motion picture out of Laika, which is that it is strange that we are currently seeing more emotional depth coming out of movies obstensively aimed at children, than those aimed at broader, older audiences. I like my blockbusters, but they're really, really ephemeral, so much that we sometimes talk about the Planet of the Apes films as "smart blockbusters" because they at least attempt to acknowledge the existance of actual ideas, but largely multiplex fodder is just that. What they rarely are is about stuff, apparently content to leave that field for the winter season oscar contenders and, strangely enough, kids movies.
OK so I'm not saying that Minions is going to make you cry. Unless you really hate the ubiquitous little tictacs, which is a reasonable position to be in. But there does seem to a tradition - especially out of the Disney/Pixar stable - of making animated movies with deeper themes that do more than just entertain adults dragged to watch them, but move them too. I've cried at more animated movies than live action ones, would you beleive? Which brings us to Kubo and the Two Strings, a movie about death.
Kubo is a young man raised by his mother alone in a cave. His mother was badly wounded escaping...something...with him, and is only alert a few hours a day, at night, when she insists Kubo must stay inside, or else his Grandfather - the Moon King - will see him, and steal his one remaining eye. Straight away this is a tale steeped in mysticism and magic, as Kubo travels to the nearby town in the day to entertain using origami figures he brings to life to retell the tales his mother spins of his father, and their life before. It quickly goes wrong, of course, and soon Kubo is off on a quest with an enchanted Monkey and cursed Beetle Samurai for companionship.
There is a heavy sense of loss that runs through the film and motivates most of the characters. Kubo never knew his father, and then loses his mother. His scary and lethal Aunts are driven by the perceived "loss" of their sister to life on Earth. His mother has lost the love of her life, the life she gave up for him, and his slowly losing her son to due to her own infirmity. Even the Moon King is driven by, to a degree, a need to not feel anything, to be immunised from those feeling that drive everyone else. At heart, this is a strange, sad tale.
The animation at work is here is fantastic. There is a stand out couple of moments when Kubo creates creatures from paper, sequences with such joy and invention they're breathtaking. The creatures around the quest objectives are also pretty cool, but a little more traditionally designed, so whilst the animation remains clever they don't sit in the memory quite as much. The same is true of the final confrontation, to be honest - it's technically brilliant but a little familiar. The emotional punches to the film comes earlier, and slightly later.
But once again I am left writing up a childrens movie and I'm left with how it made me feel. Kubo and the Two Strings is a film that aims to engage the heart, to talk about fear and death and loss, and couples that with a lushly animated mythic adventure. It's a real work of art, in more than sense, and worth catching at the cinema for the full impact.