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Movie Review

Kubo's history is one of magic and legends. At least, that's what his mother says. Though, truthfully, for most of his life he's never really felt like anything but ... just another boy.

For as long as he can remember, Kubo's lived in a cave with his mother. A cave situated on a high cliff with waves crashing on a beach far below. Thanks to a head wound, Kubo's mother spends most of the day glaze-eyed and distant, just a shell of herself. And he takes care of her. He's a good son.

But then, usually in the evenings, things will come back into focus for Kubo's blank-eyed mom. She'll sit up, brush back his hair, hug him and recite stories of his past. She'll tell him of his grandfather, an evil man who actually stole one of Kubo's eyes when he was but a baby. And she'll talk of her sisters, powerful witches who must be feared. Mother will also often share the wonderful adventures of a brave samurai named Hanzo, a warrior of great renown, a warrior who also just happens to be Kubo's long-dead father.

Now, all those tales may be true, or they may be whimsical fantasy. Kubo isn't totally sure. But they thrill him to the core. Then after those exciting moments of clarity, Mother will once again drift off into another place. She's still right there beside him, but Kubo is alone.

During the long, lonely days, young Kubo will sometimes walk to a nearby village and earn enough money to keep himself and Mother fed. He plays her lute and tells tales of the great Hanzo and his powerful, magic-imbued armor. Ordinarily a boy telling stories wouldn't gather much attention in the village square. But Kubo tells his tales by plucking the lute's strings, which magically animates pieces of paper into origami figures that move and leap into battle.

To Kubo, all that small-scale magicking is pretty old hat. It's just a few pieces of paper and a little razzle. But to the villagers it's astounding. Astounding enough to earn a few coins anyway. And that's enough to get by.

Then Kubo hurries back to the cave. That's because of the "three rules" that Mother has established:

*He must always keep a wooden charm of a monkey that she gave him close at hand.

He must always wear his father's robe.

And he must always return home before dark.*

Just recently, though, Kubo has been thinking about breaking that last rule. There are celebrations at night in the village—community prayers to deceased loved ones. He would like to attend that gathering and pray to Hanzo, if only once.

What difference could a few night hours away from the cave even make? Who would pay any attention to just another ordinary boy?

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Positive Elements

It turns out Kubo isn't ordinary at all. And by breaking the rules he draws the attention of evil entities that want to do him harm. The result? Kubo is thrown into a magical quest, accompanied by an enlivened, life-sized version of the monkey totem he has dutifully carried in his pocket as well as a human-beetle warrior—named Beetle, of course—he meets along the way. These two heroic characters are determined to protect him, even if it means their death.

Kubo has a woven lock of his mother's hair, whom he fears is dead because of his choices. Monkey tells him to keep a tight grip on it because the lock of hair represents a "memory, and memories are powerful things." In fact, it's clear that a person's story is carried on through memory, which is why it's important to pass it on to the generations that come after.

Kubo learns how his parents met and fell in love, despite being from two very different worlds. Kubo's mother talks of a battle she and Hanzo had, saying, "I spared his life … and he gave me mine. Then he gave me you."

When Kubo's otherworldly grandfather speaks to him about the horrible things in the human world, Kubo replies that he has learned many things from the sacrifice of others while on his quest. "For every horrible thing down here, there's something beautiful," Kubo says. And the young boy comes to understand why this powerful being has always wanted to steal away his eyes, "I know why you want my eye, for then I can't look into other's eyes and see their love."

[Spoiler Warning] Eventually we learn that Monkey and the Beetle are actually Kubo's mother and father transformed into magical creatures. They come to recognize each other, too, recommitting their love and devotion to one another before giving everything in defense of their son. Through a magical encounter, Grandfather is transformed into a human who then forgets what he used to be. The townspeople convince him that he's always been kind, good and giving. And he begins to live that way (symbolically demonstrating that with forgiveness, your past can be forgotten and a new life can be lived).

Spiritual Content

Kubo and the Two Strings' world is an ancient Asian land of sword-wielding warriors, poor peasant farmers and fishermen. The villagers who live near Kubo's cave home kneel and pray to loved ones they have seen pass on. They pray to draw dead spirits into Spirit Lanterns, then release those containers to float downstream in order to "usher into heaven" the souls within. Later, when other dark magical forces intervene, we see those spirits rise up en mass. A flock of Golden Herons is also said to hold the "souls of the departed." Kubo prays to his father Hanzo's spirit.

Along with those Eastern spiritual elements, there is also an undefined supernatural force in the land that manifests itself in everything from Kubo's playful manipulation of paper, leaves and other light materials to the dark, borderline demonic conjurings of Kubo's witch-like aunts. That evil pair creates a deadly storm at sea and casts a foul magical miasma that engulfs a small village, killing people and burning the village down.

Other dark magic includes large hypnotic eyes dwelling under the ocean, which spellbindingly seduce anyone who looks at them. A magical sword and armor is said to give its owner incredible power. Kubo's grandfather turns into a gigantic dragon-like creature. The older man also calls the human world a "hellish" place. The memory-less Beetle claims he was cursed.

It's obvious Kubo has inherited his magical abilities from his mother's side of the family. And it's not exactly clear what Kubo's grandfather and aunts (and mother) are, though we're told that they are definitely spiritual beings who hail from some heavenly or otherworldly realm. That doesn't, however, make them good in any way. Kubo's mother, we learn, descended to Earth initially to destroy the virtuous samurai Hanzo. In fact, it was only through the transforming power of love that Kubo's mother took on her human form.

Sexual Content

None.

Violent Content

From this film's opening moments, it's clear that a deadly and powerful danger lurks nearby, always watching and awaiting its chance. We see those evil forces unleashed in sometimes deadly (though never bloody) ways as Kubo runs through snowy and desert environments. Monkey warns Kubo, "[As] we grow stronger, life grows more dangerous." Swords slash, arrows fly, beasts attack, and heroes are seemingly always in peril.

Kubo's aunts cast spells that kill villagers. Those magics bash and batter Kubo and his companions with chains and blades. We see a woman struck down in a vicious storm at sea. She's driven deep under water and hits her head on a large rock.

Kubo, Monkey and Beetle face off with a gigantic skeletal creature that batters them repeatedly. It picks up both Monkey and Beetle and attempts to eat them. Two central characters and a spiritual predator all die in battle.

Crude or Profane Language

In frustration, someone exclaims, "Oh, foot!"

Drug and Alcohol Content

None.

Other Negative Elements

Using magic, Kubo creates a flying creature that pokes Monkey in the backside. He also creates an origami chicken that fires projectiles out of its backside as an amusement for a crowd of onlookers.

Conclusion

Animated films aren't just for kids anymore. Animation is no longer simply about creating flighty and fluffy cartoons that you can sit thoughtlessly through with some popcorn and a box of Milk Duds. In this new age, animated films can often do things that live-action pics can't. They offer up an environment where a director can shoot for the unique; he can strive to make something fantastic, something visually immersive and emotionally affecting.

But all those plusses can come with a few minuses, too. Kubo and The Two Strings is a case in point.

This stop-motion animated pic is incredibly impressive to look at. In fact, the visuals are so fluid, beautiful and entertaining that you'll quickly lose any sense that this flick was pieced together shot-by-shot and frame-by-frame. Add in swirling music, magically enlivened origami figures and a fresh, exotic tale of love and heroism, and viewers of all ages will be tantalized by the color and artistry of it all.

However, there is more to consider here.

All of Kubo's eye-, ear- and heart-pleasing stuff masks some spiritual philosophies that parents may not be expecting. This story of a young boy who uses musical magic to give life to objects and battle against spirit-realm entities; it readily accepts an Eastern mindset that embraces ritualism, prayer to deceased ancestors and dark spiritual elements. Navigating those mystical waters will require significantly more parental guidance than the movie's colorful exterior might otherwise suggest.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

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