If your kid is too old for Kung Fu Panda, but too young for Bloodsport, Kubo and the Two Strings could be the martial arts animated movie that kicks just enough ass to still keep things PG, and has just enough actors you recognize (Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei) to keep you awake.
The gist is that Kubo is a one-eyed Japanese boy who makes money telling tall tales during the day so he can take care of his sick mother at night. You’d think he’d be more successful doing that in a club after dark with a 2 drink minimum, but he can’t. Why? His evil grandfather, the Moon King (Fiennes), will come down to Earth and steal his other eye — which is a great idea to stop a teenager from breaking curfew.
When he does stay out late one night, his mom’s family predictably comes after him. The only thing that can protect him is his dad’s magical samurai armor, and the only people that fight alongside him are Monkey (Theron) and Beetle (McConaughey), who are a lot more useful than their names might suggest. So, will you and the kid say “hai” or “arigato, but no arigato” to this movie? Here’s what the critics are saying to help you decide.
For Kids: This flick is a throwback to those creepy kids’ movies you remember from your own childhood — The Neverending Story; Labyrinth; Hot To Trot? “Kubo plays not only on real fears a child is likely to have — such as losing a parent — but mixes in its own visual nightmare juice, such as murderous ghouls in kabuki masks, underwater eyeball monsters, and building-sized skeletons,” writes Austin Trunick of Under the Radar. The film will be essential viewing for those who have had a loss in the family. “It’s not always easy to watch a movie that cuts through the fog of loss with the precision of a samurai sword, but Kubo and the Two Strings is graced with a great respect for its young audience,” says David Ehrlich of IndieWire. Sorry, Minions, you just don’t make good grief counselors.
For You: Michael Rechtshaffen from the Hollywood Reporter is in awe of the next-level visual sorcery in Kubo saying it “deftly blends colorful folklore with gorgeous, origami-informed visuals to immersive effect.” And Bilge Ebiri for the Village Voice likes Laika’s mature storytelling, writing “There’s a unity of style and scale to everything Laika does — far more so than with, say, the films of Pixar, which for all their elegance will often slip into extended, indulgent comic bits or build toward wild, slapstick climaxes.”
Common Sense’s Take: Common Sense Media, the leading nonprofit source for helping parents make movie and TV choices for their kids, loved this film. Their reviewer says it will “make audiences laugh, cry, and cheer.” However, since the theme of dead folks looms large, it’s best suited for older kids — tweens on up. Although you may have to promise them a katana to be seen with you at the movie theater.
Bottom Line: It earns that PG rating with plenty of violent kicks and talk of kicking the bucket. But the heart-wrenching story and stunning creativity of the animation are worth it for kids who can handle the subject matter. “Son, we’re getting the jumbo popcorn, because our time on Earth is precious.”
Running Time: 101 minutes