The Boy had run off to see this with his girlfriend, and it was gone so fast from theaters that I only managed to get the Barbarienne to it through “heroic measures” on the last day. But he was pretty insistent that This Movie Be Seen. His point, which I think is valid, is that people bitch about movies being the same and Hollywood being bankrupt of ideas, but then when something different comes along, they don’t go see it. Which, as I frequently point out, is why Hollywood churns out the same crap over and over again. It works.
And Kubo isn’t really that different. It has Laika’s look (as seen in The Boxtrolls, ParaNorman, Coraline and The Corpse Bride), though, refreshingly, they use enough of a different palette and style that you might not notice it’s them. In addition, the story is a little rougher, much like The Boxtrolls, and maybe a little more boy-oriented than most (though not more than Boxtrolls). Some of the tropes are drawn from Asian folklore, too, which is nice: It’s less like Mulan, with it’s pseudo-historical-presentation-plus-talking-animals, and more like an animated juvenille version of the Zhang Yimou films House of Flying Daggers and Hero.
Also, the traditional fairy tale’s dead-parent-or-parent trope is subverted rather cleverly (though I figured it out pretty quickly, if I say so myself). And it has a bittersweet ending, which was also refreshing.
On the other hand, it wasn’t alien or anything. Kubo’s on a Hero’s Journey to gather the artifacts of his (missing or decesaed) father. These will allow him to go against his demigod grandfather (momma fell in love with a mortal) and—actually, I forget what the upshot is supposed to be. Minimally, if he can kill his mother’s family, they’ll leave him alone. As it is, he has to be inside before it gets dark, or his aunts and grandfather will find him and steal his remaining eye. (Pop-pop already took one eye.)
And good stuff. Liked the score by Dario Marianelli (Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre). Chock full of stunt casting, like Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) as Monkey and Ralph Fiennes (Hail, Caesar!, Coriolanus) but not annoyingly so. Matthew McConaughey caught my ear because I recognized his voice, but it didn’t have his usual drawl. First time director Travis Knight (animator on the three most recent Laika flicks) does a fine job, working off a script in part credited to one of Paranorman‘s screenwriters (Chris Butler).
I guess Laika films have never been really popular, and Kubo has made only slightly less than Boxtrolls, but I guess the difference (for me) is that I would put Kubo at the top of animated films this year. (Caveat: We have not seen Moana yet.) Certainly better than the awful Secret Life of Pets, and much more poetic than the frantic (#1 film this year) Finding Dory. But I think it also transcends, emotionally, the fine Zootopia and has as an advantage, a completely apolitical, non-relevant (in terms of current fascinations with trivial offense) story. And what’s frustrating (or would be for me, if I had made the film) is that, while critics rate it in the top 10 for the year (per Rotten Tomatoes), audiences—those who actually saw it—seem to rate it comparably to Finding Dory and substantially higher than (the much more financially remunerative) Kung Fu Panda 3.
Franchises. Sequels. This is why they get made. To say nothing of mediocrities like Troll and Sing—which are “original” but also distributed by the powerhouses (Dreamworks and Illumination, respectively). It’s almost like the system is…dare I say it?…rigged against the littler guys.
But maybe not. It’s hard to know what people like—and in our age of special snowflakes, the issue may have been that the movie didn’t have an unambiguous “they lived happily ever after” at the end—but I guess it’s not too hard to see what they will and won’t try. Nonetheless, this is a film worth seeing.