Movie News & Reviews

‘Kubo’ excels in technique, but the story needs work

Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) is swept up by origami wings in animation studio Laika’s epic action-adventure “Kubo and the Two Strings,” a Focus Features release.
Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) is swept up by origami wings in animation studio Laika’s epic action-adventure “Kubo and the Two Strings,” a Focus Features release. LAIKA / Focus Features

As a fan of Laika, the animation studio behind “Coraline” and “The Boxtrolls,” I’m sorry to report that “Kubo and the Two Strings” has problems that undermine its impressive technical work.

There are enough good things here to justify a family outing, but older viewers might find a few bones to pick. (That’s a joke; one of the film’s highlights features an ambulatory skeleton.)

Kubo is a one-eyed boy who lives in a small village and earns a pittance by telling vivid stories in the town’s marketplace long ago in Japan. He’s evidently a wizard at origami, because his tales are illustrated with small paper figures that come alive.

The spiritual life of Kubo’s community involves honoring deceased ancestors. The boy’s eventual quest will require him to find and use the warrior tools of his dead father, a renowned samurai. It’s a world of magic and legend.

Helping Kubo (voice of Art Parkinson) in his search for his father’s sword, armor and helmet are the film’s girl-power figure — a fierce female monkey (Charlize Theron) — and a peculiar onetime samurai who has been turned into an outsized beetle (Matthew McConaughey).

The sought-after weapon is referred to as the “sword unbreakable,” and it becomes the subject for some decent verbal comedy.

There’s considerable humor here, much of it coming from McConaughey’s character, who isn’t the smartest swordsman to roam the countryside. The jokes are aimed at a younger demographic, which is OK; the problem is the repetitiveness and that the smart-alecky component doesn’t sit well with the movie’s mood of magic, mystery and otherworldliness.

The action sequences can be eye-popping, but there’s a lack of freshness to how the story develops. Director Travis Knight is too dependent on familiar elements, and the movie feels long.

Laika’s specialty is stop-motion animation, which in “Kubo” is enhanced with computer-generated effects and specialized techniques that have earned the company praise from animation connoisseurs.

What Laika achieves is an effective mixture of hyper-real and hyper-stylized, a combination that keeps “Kubo” appealing to the eye for audiences of all ages. If the film’s plotting and dialogue had measured up, “Kubo” might have been a masterpiece.

Movie review

‘Kubo and the Two Strings’

Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril. 1:41. 2D and 3D: Hamburg, Nicholasville. 2D only: Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Nicholasville, Richmond, Woodhill, Winchester.

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