Mag­i­cal tale feels both an­cient, fresh

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - GO SEE MOVIE REVIEWS, CAPSULES - By Michael O’sul­li­van Wash­ing­ton Post

“If you must blink, do it now,” be­gins the voice-over nar­ra­tion of the an­i­mated ad­ven­ture “Kubo and the Two Strings.” “Pay care­ful at­ten­tion to ev­ery­thing you see, no mat­ter how un­usual it may seem.”

A viewer would do well to heed that ad­vice, not only be­cause this breath­tak­ingly beau­ti­ful film comes cour­tesy of Laika, the stop-mo­tion an­i­ma­tion stu­dio be­hind the Academy Award-nom­i­nated eye-pop­pers “Co­ra­line,” “Paranor­man” and “The Boxtrolls.” As hinted at in the sec­ond part of that warn­ing, “Kubo” is both ex­traor­di­nar­ily orig­i­nal and ex­traor­di­nar­ily com­plex, even for a grown-up movie mas­querad­ing as a kid­die car­toon.

While the movie will cer­tainly ap­peal to many chil­dren — with its ju­ve­nile pro­tag­o­nist (voice of Art Parkin­son), talk­ing mon­key side­kick (Char­l­ize Theron) and oc­ca­sional com­edy, mostly pro­vided by Matthew Mcconaughey as a sa­mu­rai war­rior who has been turned into a gi­ant, joke-crack­ing bee­tle — it is also richly al­lu­sive and metaphor­i­cal in ways that take some ma­tu­rity to suss out.

It’s also, es­pe­cially for younger view­ers, pretty darn scary.

The ac­tion be­gins when a

young Ja­panese boy named Kubo ac­ci­den­tally raises the malev­o­lent, ghost­like spir­its of his two ma­ter­nal aunts (both voiced by Rooney Mara). These witchy fig­ures have al­ready mur­dered the boy’s sa­mu­rai fa­ther, blinded Kubo in one eye and at­tacked his mother, leav­ing her not just phys­i­cally scarred, near mute and liv­ing in a cave, but also suf­fer­ing from what looks very much like PTSD.

That’s a tough, shiv­ery tale, and it’s only the back story. We soon dis­cover that Kubo’s mother’s sis­ters are com­ing to get our hero’s other eye. For rea­sons that Kubo will learn only later, it his grand­fa­ther, the evil Moon King (Ralph Fi­ennes), who wants it, lead­ing Kubo to set off on a quest to re­trieve his late fa­ther’s ar­mor. On this mis­sion, he is ac­com­pa­nied only by the wise and ma­ter­nal Mon­key, the brave but buf­foon­ish Bee­tle and the tit­u­lar shamisen, a mag­i­cal stringed in­stru­ment that will come in handy, in ways you won’t ex­pect, more than once.

Kubo, for his part, is an ex­pert sto­ry­teller, spin­ning yarns in the court­yard of his vil­lage as the film opens, us­ing origami fig­ures that come to cap­ti­vat­ing life in a knock­out se­quence of an­i­ma­tion. So, for that mat­ter, are the film’s racon­teurs. First-time di­rec­tor Travis Knight, who pre­vi­ously worked in Laika’s an­i­ma­tion depart­ment, is aided in that re­gard by screen­writ­ers Marc Haimes and Chris But­ler, who have shaped an orig­i­nal story by Haimes and Shan­non Tin­dle into a saga that feels some­how an­cient and en­tirely fresh, at once steeped in the tra­di­tion of evoca­tive Ja­panese po­etry yet deeply, uni­ver­sally re­lat­able.

In other words, Kubo’s tale feels as if he’s liv­ing it as he is mak­ing it up, weav­ing some­thing new out of old threads as he goes along.

Noth­ing — and no one — is ex­actly as it seems. On the most ba­sic level, the film can be read as a straight­for­ward ad­ven­ture fea­tur­ing such ad­ver­saries as a gi­ant or­ange skele­ton and a drag­on­like fish. Yet many of the film’s char­ac­ters rep­re­sent more than one thing. Like the origami fig­ures that Kubo con­jures into ser­vice of his sto­ries, such in­tan­gi­ble values as fam­ily, love, hu­man con­nec­tion, honor — even the act of sto­ry­telling it­self — are given the kind of pres­ence that ex­ists most vividly only in the imag­i­na­tion.

That’s the kind of magic that “Kubo” traf­ficks in, cast­ing a spell you can’t spoil even if you never take your eyes off of the ma­gi­cian.

LAIKA STU­DIOS/FO­CUS FEA­TURES

Kubo, voiced by Art Parkin­son, em­barks on a dark ad­ven­ture in the an­i­mated film, “Kubo and the Two Strings.”

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