Tuesday, June 27, 2017

String Theory

A while back, I watched the animated movie Kubo and the Two Strings. It's literally been months; it somehow just fell through the cracks to write anything about it. That delay should not be construed as a lack of enthusiasm for the movie itself.

Set in feudal Japan, the film tells the story of young boy on a quest to find his lost samurai father. He is joined an interesting collection of sidekicks: a snow monkey (come to life from a tiny charm), a living origami figure, and large beetle warrior cursed with memory loss.

As you can probably tell from that brief description, the world of this film is quite quirky and flavorful. And it's supported to the fullest by jaw-dropping animation. This is a stop motion film in the mold of Coraline (it's from the same production company, in fact), but there are a lot of images here that boggle the mind. Visual effects are used, but in a truly seamless way. (The film deservedly received an Oscar nomination for them.) Add in wonderful character design, striking color, and pain-stakingly perfect movement, and you might just have the best looking animated film ever made.

The story and the cast, though quite good, can't quite live up to such a high mark. I wouldn't go so far to say that the story is conventional, but it certainly falls short of the innovation shown in building the world. There's also a notable problem of Hollywood white-washing. This isn't just a "social justice warrior" thing here; the film really does suffer for how it's cast.

Background characters from top to bottom are filled with Japanese voices that are all recognizable as such. (Some can be recognized in particular, like George Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa.) The main characters all have voices clearly not of that culture, including Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Art Parkinson (the young boy who plays Rickon Stark in Game of Thrones), and Ralph Fiennes. No question, each is well cast for their type: Theron is a no-nonsense warrior/protector, McConaughey is free-spirited and a bit crazed, Parkinson is so youthful he makes the adventure seem that much greater, and Fiennes is bringing another villain to life. But they all sound nothing like the world around them, and collectively create moments that cleave the movie's strong sense of style in two.

Still, it's surprising to me how few people seem to have seen or heard of Kubo and the Two Strings. For its towering visual achievements alone, it deserves a wider audience. I give it a B+.

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