Music in any form is magical, yet, it never hurts when a melody has visual aids to go with it. And, if you’ve never seen a tiny swordsman brought to life by the pluck of an instrument, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is one for you to watch.
If you go...
“Kubo and the Two Strings,” rated PG
Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars
Running time: 102 minutes
Starring the voices of: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes and Matthew McConaughey
Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas and Craig’s West Theatre.
In feudal Japan, a young boy named Kubo (voice of Art Parkinson) lives in solitude with his ailing mother (Charlize Theron) in a coastal cave near a village. Once per day, he is allowed to perform for the townspeople with a mystical shamisen that allows him to do wondrous feats, though the one rule he must live by is to never be outside after sunset.
Kubo longs for answers about his past and about the father he’s only heard about in stories, but when he attempts to search for clues it results in disaster as he’s whisked away to an unknown land and suddenly under the protection of a talking monkey who informs him they must seek out and recover a set of armor that is his birthright to save him from the evil forces searching for him.
With the help of a scatterbrained samurai (Matthew McConaughey) who’s also part beetle, they face monsters, harsh conditions and more in the quest to uncover the identity of the boy who has yet to learn just how special he is.
Similar to most, if not all, cinematic kids thrust into unexpected adventure, Kubo is both thrilled and terrified along with those of us watching as he suddenly has to live up to his legacy armed with nothing more than a musical instrument that when strummed gives him control over the many sheets of paper he carries.
It may not sound like much, but when you give origami a mind of its own, amazing things can happen.
In a dual role, Theron is both haunting as Kubo’s fragile mother, who holds many secrets, and amusing as Monkey, his new guardian, a humorless baboon who doesn’t respond well to too many questions.
McConaughey is worth a grin as Beetle, cursed to live as part insect due to a transgression he can’t remember, and though being part bug isn’t all bad, having a round shell on your shoulders can make you pretty helpless when you fall flat on your back.
The fourth feature from blossoming animation studio Laika has some commonalities with “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” and “The Boxtrolls,” most glaringly a pre-teen protagonist, which seems to be the hallmark of the company’s movies so far.
Rather than the more contemporary qualities of the rest of these, we get a more traditional bit of folklore with elements of Japanese mythology and culture recreated with great panache in the stop-motion style that, similar to all of Laika’s work, shows painstaking attention to detail with gorgeous outcomes.
The classical fantasy narrative also is enhanced by the fact that Kubo himself is a masterful storyteller, drawing a fan base with his unending tale of a wandering warrior inspired by his father.
Everybody enjoys a fire-breathing chicken, even if they don’t know it.
If there’s one downside to this project, it’s the dearth of Asian voice actors, with George Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa among those relegated to minor roles. For that matter, as beautiful as it sounds, Regina Spektor’s cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with Eastern tones is likely a mixed bag for those with Japanese heritage.
How sadly ironic that while giving its hero only one functioning eye, they manage to turn a blind eye to the possibility of better representing the country where their story is set.
Parts of “Kubo and the Two Strings” may be more bothersome to some than others, but it remains a quality work from a studio that continues to produce delightful animation unlike any other.
As Kubo says, if you have to blink, do it now, so you don’t miss anything.
Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @TheBocksOffice.