Kubo and the Two Strings is the latest effort from Laika, those delightful quirk monsters who brought us Coraline and Paranorman. But Kubo isn’t in the same macabre-adjacent vein as those efforts. In fact, for the first reel or so, it’s quite unlike anything else. As the journey presses on, however, it falls into unfortunately familiar territory. Even so, Kubo never stops entertaining and is well worth a watch for its lovely animation and impressive voice cast.
Kubo begins with a bit of personal history that sets the stage for the conflict to come. However, the picture is at its best shortly thereafter when we meet Kubo the boy and glimpse his life. He’s a heartbreakingly dutiful son and a gifted storyteller. We watch as he strolls into town, consults with a feisty elderly friend and then takes up his instrument. “If you must blink, do it now.” What an opening line, right? Kubo picks a plucky tune and starts to weave his tale. Then, from the ground before him pieces of paper flutter up and begin to take form and action, bringing the store to incredible life. If only the whole movie has this panache and fascination. Still, even these rapid few minutes are likely enough to put Kubo in strong contention for a Best Animated Feature Oscar.
But of course, this isn’t the whole movie, and soon enough young Kubo is tempted by curiosity to break his rigid routine and in so doing reveals himself to the dreaded Moon King and his daughters — aka grandfather and aunties to Kubo — and his call to adventure is complete. From here, the story falls into a very familiar trajectory and conclusion, but benefits throughout from a solid script full of colorful characters to help Kubo along his path. There is action and laughs a plenty, even if the eventual vanilla endgame feels a bit of a letdown after such a delightfully different start.