Kubo and the Two Strings movie full length review - Interesting premise that doesn't know how to be told
I am a pretty big fan of Laika. As a studio, they have brought a blend of stop-motion and CGI into the mainstream and have also tested much riskier subject material than other animation companies.
Not only is their animation time consuming and risky, but their ideas are fairly risky as well (in today's market, that is).
And Kubo is another interesting premise with beautiful animation, gorgeous backgrounds, and a nice style to it. It looks really good. Props to the animators. Stop-motion is advancing further and further with every movie Laika is making, and the stuff that is done in this movie would have seemed impossible to do only 7 years ago when Coraline was first released.
The first 20 minutes of this movie are excellent and well-told!
However, beautiful animation does not make a good movie...
Story is the heart of a movie, and if you don't know how to tell a story, then you should go back to the drawing board (or storyboard). The biggest issue with Kubo isn't the most obvious one. The characters are nice, the animation is nice, the action is nice, and everything feels pretty solid, but what really kills this movie is the editing, the script, and its lack of solidity.
In short: Kubo and the Two Strings doesn't know what it is.
I could write a 10 page essay on the deeper issues of this movie, but that doesn't fit in one IMDb review. In Kubo, and lot of interesting ideas are brought up, but none of them fit together or are cohesive.
For example, what is Kubo's motivation? Staying alive? Saving his mom? Beating his grandpa? Kubo never really gets true motivation until the third act and this is a major issue for the movie. The movie says Kubo is on an adventure, but he doesn't seem to feel the stakes until the final act, which is way too late in the game for us to care about him.
The same goes with the villain. The background and motives of the villain are constantly changing and inconsistent. One second he wants to kill Kubo. Next second he wants his eye. Yet another second later, he just wants to help Kubo come to heaven with him. Then he hates everyone becomes they are human. Then his motives change to he just hates human because they could overthrow him. Then another motive where it is because he thinks they are disgrace.
THIS IS A BIG ISSUE.
For the villain's motivation and reasoning to be completely ambiguous and confusing completely ruins Kubo's arc... which is equally confusing and muddled. Essentially, both the villain and the protagonist are the weakest points of this movie. A movie can't really hold together with this big of a problem.
And this issue is repeated throughout the movie where nothing is actually fully realized.
For example: there is one scene where Kubo briefly loses control of his powers and it does something he didn't mean to do. Never mentioned again in the movie.
The plot of his mother being sick and needing to be taken care of. Never fully explained or fully realized.
Why the mom can't recognize her own husband when she sees his face? Why does the mom pretend she isn't kubo's mom (she says it is so he won't feel bad?!?!?). How come the mom told stories of the locations of all of the MacGuffins, but then doesn't know where they are?
What did the moon king want with Kubo's eyes? Why does the moon king have Kubo's eye at the end when he is a human, but not when he is a spirit being? Why does the moon king become a human? Why does the town lie about his past? Why did Kubo trust the moon king in the dream, when his whole journey is to beat the moon king, but then when he sees the moon king he trusts him?
*big spoilers* Why is there a red paper samurai? Why is there a red paper samurai once the beetle shows up, who is the actual real-life version of that samurai! Why didn't anyone recognize the beetle as the father, especially when the father's samurai armor appears to be sitting within that same cave? Why didn't anyone follow the red paper samurai to the last location of the armor? They followed it the entire time, but not at the end?
Long story short, this list of character problems and inconsistencies is much longer than this, but a lot of these are pretty big plot problems and not just nit-picks. The finale of the movie is problem the worst element of the movie and not because it isn't visually stunning, but mostly because it is one character who has no tangible motivation versus someone else who hasn't had a very clear goal throughout the film. To make it worse, the movie doesn't even know what it is about. Is it about memories? Is it about death? Is it about stuck-up snobs? Is it an attack on tradition? Is it attacking perfectionists? What is the movie about?
What makes this all the more frustrating is the fact that ParaNorman is a movie that has a similar premise, but it does it perfectly. The ending of ParaNorman works, because all of its themes tie together flawlessly.
ParaNorman is a cohesive story and knows what it is saying. Kubo does not.
Sadly, if you are expecting the next Coraline or ParaNorman, then prepare to be disappointed. This movie feels like a first-pass. A lot of ideas, but none of them mesh together or are completed.