Kubo and the Two Strings (2016): A Masterpiece of Animation With an Unforgettable Story

Kubo and the Two Strings

  “Kubo and the Two Strings” is my favorite movie of the year. Whether it was hold that place remains to be seen but thus far, it is the most perfect film I have watched this year. Not only is the stop-motion animation and soundtrack amazing but the story and characters kept me involved through the entire story, and the story starts out slow to let know become familiar with the world. You should see this film, I want more films like this to be made and it needs all the support it can get, given it is only Laika studios that is keeping this form of art alive.

   The film was directed by Travis Knight, who was also one of the producers, written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler with the other producer being Marc Haimes.

    The story involves Kubo (Art Parkinson), whose eye was stolen by his grandfather the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and must not go out at night unless his grandfather finds him and takes his other eye. During the village’s festival he stays out too late and finds himself hunted by his two Aunts (Rooney Mara) who have come to take his other eye at his Grandfather’s behest. He must collect his father’s armor, sword and helmet in order to stop the Moon King and is helped by Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a former samurai turned into Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) along the way.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is wonderful and full of amazing monsters! From a Garden of Eyes, Witches and Gods to a Ten Foot Skeleton…this is a world that is lived in and all the powerful for it as it embraces Japanese mythology while creating a mythology all it’s own.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful, Dario Marianelli manages to create a soundtrack infused with magic that is full of power in depth, where you feel each loss and the power behind each action or fight.

The Writing – Marc Haimes and Chris Butler did a fantastic job on the writing! There is powerful drama and humor that gives it a balance that doesn’t really exist in “Deadpool”(which is a favorite film). It is their mixture of humor and drama mixed with a powerful message and characters are what made it my favorite film this year thus far.

 The Animation – “Kubo and the Two Strings” is my first Laika film. Suffice to say after this I plan on watching the rest of the films they’ve made. Stop-motion animation is a lost art that they keep alive and continue to improve upon.

The Characters – The characters are extremely memorable! Each of them is an archetype to some degree, but also manage to get beyond those archetypes in how they are written. They have humanity and flaws and it makes them worth rooting for or makes them feel threatening.

Hosato – George Takei plays one of the people in the village who takes care of his daughter who is Kubo’s biggest fan. He’s a nice solid presence in the film and in a way reminds Kubo of the fact that he believes his father to be dead at the beginning of the story and his mom is only lucidly present of him…

Kameyo – Kameyo is the older woman who is a beggar in town and the soul of the town. She is a mother figure to Kubo a bit as she is one who looks out for him and helps him with his storytelling. Brenda Vaccaro is fantastic.

The Sisters – The Sisters, who are Kubo’s Aunts are amazing! Rooney Mara gives a haunting performance as these two mask wearing witches who are so powerful that they kill both Kubo’s mother and father. They are one of the best animated threats I’ve ever seen.

Beetle/Hanzo – McConaughey is wonderful in the role of Beetle, who we learn was turned into a Beetle by the Sisters and the Moon King to punish him for leading their sister out of immortality. He has a lot of humor to him and isn’t very bright but his heart is in the right spot and he has great humor. His death is powerful too as he risks his life to protect Monkey/his wife Sariatu.

Monkey/Sariatu – Theron plays my favorite character in the film. Monkey and her Sisters are the best parts of the film. In Monkey we get the strength of her personality and her love for her son and husband while as Sariatu she is a traumatized shell destroyed by her family being cared for by her son. The dichotomy is powerful and gives her humanity and depth. She was a God and gave it up to protect Hanzo from her family…She is the best part of this film.

Kubo – Kubo is a great protagonist who feels very much like Link a Zelda game but has so much more depth and layers to him as we see him finally allowed to be a kid after he leaves the village and is collecting his father’s sword and armor. Before that he is forced to be an adult caring for his mother and making money for food. He had no childhood until his life was at risk and seeing how they explore it is something you have to see for yourself.

Facing Loss – He loses both his mother and father twice, both times as they protect him and in the story we see him face that loss and remember the memories as well as honoring them with the lantern ceremony the village does as who they both are live on in him. The missing of another never goes away, but those we lose become a part of us like the strings on Kubo’s instrument.

The Power of Story – Story is a major theme as the Grandfather is trying to force his story upon his Grandson and make him like him, the village story of his Father’s past is never finished until he becomes a literal part of it when myth (his grandfather the Moon and his Aunts) hunt him and the stories of the dead are interwoven through the film. The self and it’s connection to story is powerful…how a story can change or be erased is captured in the story of his family as at different points they lose their story.

The Hero’s Journey – Kubo’s Hero’s journey is powerful as he discovers connections only to lose them and has to adapt to change all around him. From his mother becoming Monkey, his father being a live and Beetle…to losing them both and in the end having to care for his Grandfather who loses his memory as well. Even as he discovers joy and childhood circumstances force him to lose it and from it find himself.

Okay/Pro: Raiden the Moon King – Raiden has great minions in his daughters and I liked the fact that he is like a sympathetic old man until he turns into a monster…in the story it is left open too if he ascended to Godhood and was once human or was forced into humanity by Kubo…there is so much possibility in this character that I can’t just put him as okay as he is interesting in what they do with him.

    Minus the fact that Raiden is a bit underdeveloped (though still interesting)…this is  a film that I can’t really find any faults with. Kubo doesn’t really get his happy ending, his parents are dead and he has to face it. This is a film that is well worth your time and you should really see it if you have the chance. Give strength to these stories that don’t exist as franchises and are timeless and powerful. This is the best film of the year I have seen thus far and is well worth your time, it is in the timeless stories that we are reminded of our own and this story does it with unforgettable power and beauty.

Final Score: 10 / 10. First perfect film of the year.

Star Trek: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 7 – “The Infinite Vulcan” – New Purpose

Spock_2,_Keniclius_5,_and_Enterprise_crew

  Walter Koenig (the actor who plays Chekov) is a great writer! He has a lot of big ideas he deals with in this (the survival of a dying species and how to change ideals) and does a really good job with it! This was an episode that could have been terrible. Clones generally are a bad idea, especially cloning a major character, but this episode rises above this generally bad idea.

   “The Infinite Vulcan” was directed by Hal Sutherland and written by as stated above, Walter Koenig.

      The story involves the Enterprise being ordered to a planet at the far reaches of the galaxy where a dying plant species called the Phylosians has made a deal with a man from the Eugenic Wars who has chosen Spock to clone in order to create his Master Race to bring peace to the galaxy. It is up to the crew to stop him.

The Pros: Phylos – Phylos is a really cool planet. It is entirely made of plant life with both predatory flying plants as enemies and the dying race of the Phylos as the dominant species. It is colorful, green and dangerous and I wish the planet would make appearance in other “Trek” things.

The Phylosians – This species is fascinating as they latch onto the man Dr. Stavos who almost killed them from his germs but did everything to save him. They were once a war making species but now only want to be peacekeepers…much like humanity and Dr. Stavos.

Uhura – Uhura has a minor but great role in this. She researches the Eugenic Wars and finds that Stavos fought in it and it is from her research they are able to reason with the man and Spock 2 in order to save Spock and keep Stavos’s ideals from becoming a nightmare. 

Sulu – Sulu also has an active role in this as it is the Phylosians who save him from a plant that poisons him and it is he who later defends them when they are attacked by the Phylosians by easily throwing one. He shows that he is adapt, witty and can match wits with any crewmember or alien. He’s a lot of fun in this and Takei brings his charm.

Scotty – Is the acting Captain and does a good job as we see that he is the one who tries everything to reach Kirk as he doesn’t want to cause a war during first contact. He truly is the best engineer in “Star Trek.”

Dr. Stavos – Stavos is the idealist run amok who has lost all faith in humanity so wants to create a master race to enforce peace between worlds. He ran away from the Eugenic Wars because of the ashamed he was of his people and the war and that shame rubbed off on him when he nearly wiped out the Phylosians from simply being part human. This makes it possible to reason with him though and in the end he becomes an ally of the Federation.

Spock and Spock 2 – Spock 2 is Spock’s Clone who has Stavos’s ideals but also the Vulcan logic which leads to him stopping further clones from being created and mind melding with the original Spock in order to save him. He later stays to help Stavos further his research and save the Phylosians.

Spock agrees with the Clone and calls out Kirk for his aggression while complimenting him for when he acts with a cool head.

Kirk –  This is a good Kirk episode as we see him deal with threats in a reasoned way while still using force when absolutely necessary. He is convincing too and manages to turn the Phylosians and Dr. Stavos who were once enemies into allies of the Federation.

    This was a really great episode with the only cons being the fact that what Dr. Stavos did during the Eugenic Wars is never gone into. In a way it isn’t needed but it would have made the episode perfect if we had more time. I really recommend this episode. I had no idea Walter Koenig could write, but he did a great job.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Star Trek: The Animated Series – Upcoming Reviews

Star Trek The Animated Series

     “Star Trek: The Animated Series” is a series that I’ve been planning to review since I did “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” are two of my favorite franchises with both having some rather horrible things tied to their name (For “Star Wars” it’s the first 2 Prequels and “The Christmas Special” and for “Star Trek” it’s “Enterprise” and some of “Voyager.”

From what I understand this series isn’t fully considered canon (much like some of the “Star Wars” animated EU) but still is an important part of “Star Trek.” For one the original voice actors from “Star Trek: The Original Series” played the voices of their characters on the show and even though the terrible Filmation produced it (lazy is another word I’d use) Gene Rodenberry did produce it and penned some of the stories as well. For this reason I’d consider it more lore than the Abrams reboot series as it is still within the “Star Trek Universe” and main timeline.

It was fan love for the revival of the “The Original Series” after it’s cancellation that lead to this shows creation from 1973-1974 which in turn helped give us “The Original Series” films and a reboot of the live action franchise. In this way it is a powerful part of history and showing just how much power a fanbase can have in reviving something they love.

I am a Trekkie and have been since Middle School but I have never watched this series. So I am looking forward to what I’ll discover and if it is able to capture the wonder, mystery and some of the great messages that made “The Original Series” so great.

I’ll be reviewing the episodes individually with a series assessment at the end and my “Top 5 Episodes” for people too. Suffice to say, I am looking forward to it.

Lets Explore the Final Frontiers.

 

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 1, Episodes 13-14 – “Jedi Crash” and “Defenders of Peace” – The Price of Attachment and Those Caught in the Crossfire

Epguide014

   I’m really liking “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” thus far. Minus Jar Jar getting far more screen time than he should (he should be replaced by someone else) and the general incompetency of Grievous it really is an amazing show thus far that manages to explore powerful themes related to war. These are two connected episodes that explore the theme of pacifism during war, the affects of war on neutral populations by larger powers and non-attachment.

    The episodes directors were Rob Coleman and Steward Lee with the writers being Katie Lucas and Bill Canterbury.

      The story involves Anakin suffering a major injury when he and Ahsoka rescue Aayla from her ship that the Separatists are destroying. They crash land on an unknown world and must look for a healer. They soon put the pacifist Lurmen in a difficult situation in aiding Anakin as the Separatists soon arrive to use their planet as a testing ground for a new weapon.

The Pros: The Lurmen – This species is designed to look like monkeys and they look sympathetic but not cute thankfully. We aren’t dealing with Ewoks here. They are also a complicated society with pacifism as a tradition that isn’t questioned until the Separatists want to use their village to test a new weapon. The leader’s son and the younger generation are the ones who fight though and embrace the new possibility of the Republic.

General Lok Durd – Voiced by the amazing George Takei, this guy is someone who has no concept of valuing life. For him everything is about power and position and he treats the Lurman like a slave casts raiding their village as an example of Separatist “Protection.” He has invented a weapon that destroys organic life but doesn’t get the chance to use it as Anakin destroys it and captures him. I hope we see this character again. He’s deadly and pompous and fun to see in action.

Aayla Secura – Secura teaches Ahsoka about the importance of non-attachment and tells about her own experience with it when her Master was gravely injured and the choice she had to make. She is a major part of the team and does a good job at walking the fine line in their dealings with the Lurman and fighting the Separatists.

Ahsoka – Ahsoka shows how much she is like Anakin in this when he almost dies when she asks to stay with him when if she had he might have been killed by the animals that were hunting. Because she goes with Aayla they find the Lurman village and it is her defense of them and conversation with them and inspires the Chieftain’s son to fight.

Anakin Skywalker – Anakin is out of commission for most of the episode and shows that he is capable of calm as he respects the Lurman’s pacifism and defends them from the Separatist weapon and army.

The Choices of the Neutral – In this episode we see the Chieftain of the Lurman always true tradition and pacifism and believes he is doing so to protect his people. We see later that a lot of it is just tradition and that he doesn’t want to lose his culture as their people will be wiped out by the weapon if they do not fight. His son and the younger generation choose to fight and in the end we see the Republic Fleet ominously arrive over the planet as he warns about what this might bring. His fears are validated in the end as the end result is the Empire. I wonder if the Lurman even exist anymore in the Imperial Era or if they were all wiped out.

Does Pacifism Work? – The question posed is the question of Pacifism working as a philosophy. I’d argue it can, but only if there aren’t any bullies or threats willing to take, kill or main you. If you do nothing you are letting greater evil occur and that is why Pacifism doesn’t work. By not fighting back the Chieftain was ready to let all his people die without even the chance for life. This shows that as an ideal it is great, but in practice against those who are ready to kill you, it is one of the worst paths that can be chosen.

On Attachment – Aayla tells Ahsoka that one person should not live so thousands can die. Echoing the Vulcan philosophy of the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few. This is the reason for the Jedi Non-attachment as like Buddhist monks their goal is to live right action to the greatest degree and not be blinded by attachments when it may needlessly risk themselves or innocents.

   These episodes were powerful, especially “Defenders of Peace,” which was better. They asked important questions and we saw people change. From Ahsoka becoming more Jedi than Anakin as she embraces non-attachment and in the Lurman choosing to fight after embracing pacifism for who knows how long. I’d highly recommend these two episodes. George Takei as Lok Durd was brilliant too. These stories show just how great this show can be and why at the end of these reviews, chances are it will have become a favorite show.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 1 “Water,” Episode 6 – “Imprisoned” – Empowerment

ATLA Season 1 ep 6

    The theme of this episode was resistance, solidarity and empowerment and it was a lot of fun. This was an episode where we got to see more of the Earth Kingdom culture and the brilliance and cruelty of the Fire Nation.

    “Imprisoned” was directed by Dave Filoni and written by Matthew Hubbard and Aaron Ehasz.

    The story begins with Katara, Sokka and Aang stumbling upon Haru, an Earthbender kid who they soon learn has had all the Earthbenders in his village kidnapped by the Fire Nation who are milking the village for all of it’s value and using it’s coal mines to run their ships. The story unfolds as Katara speaks of resistance and fighting back and shares the loss of her Mother to the Fire Nation with Haru. After he is captured she purposely gets captured in order to inspire the Earthbenders to fight back.

The Pros: The Warden – George Takei is the voice of the Warden he plays an awesome character! His character is a cruel and cowardly, but also a really good Firebender. He also has a personality that is quick to anger and is great at instilling fear. When he is beaten it is quite rewarding.

Haru – Haru is a great minor character who wants to fight back until his parent’s fears keep him from doing so as he fears them getting killed. It isn’t until Team Avatar creates enough coal on the ship that he uses it to throw the first punch using the coal at the Warden which inspires them all to fight back.

Sokka – Sokka is the most fearful of them all too and wants to focus on the mission. He is quick to give up on people too as we see him ask Katara to give up but gives in when she puts her foot down about staying. He had a point too about leaving, but I’m glad Katara won the argument.

Aang – Aang is the one supporting Katara through this episode and is a great friend as his Airbending is essential to every plan they use…the first to show Katara Earthbending and the second to get the coal to the trapped Earthbenders. He also doesn’t show any jealousy even though it seems like Katara might be interested in Haru and he is interested in Katara.

Katara – Katara is the driving force of this episode and she is awesome! We see her give some pretty awesome speeches glorifying Earthbenders as defenders of the Earth Nation and that she’d heard stories about them growing up. She never gives up on them and in the end it pays off.

The Message – Don’t give up on people and when it comes to resistance, solidarity is important. It is when all of them stand together, Team Avatar and the prisoners that the Fire Nation Warriors are finally defeated.

Okay: The Fire Nation Ship – Looked cool and the Warden had personality, but that’s about it. Not bad, but not a pro.

The Earth Nation Village – It was a fearful subjugated place but it didn’t have personality the way some past Earth Nation cities did.

  This was a great episode and one that really explores the pain that has been done by the Fire Nation through Haru and Katara’s stories. We also see how fear can break people as well as how hope can inspire action and sometimes all it takes is one person having the courage to stand to inspire others to fight. Also, George Takei as a voice actor, one can’t go wrong with that.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10.