Kubo and the Two Strings parents guide

Kubo and the Two Strings Parent Review

Parents be forewarned: Although amazingly crafted, this abstract and metephorical stop-frame animation is aimed at an artsy audience --not young viewers.

Overall B

The quiet life of Kubo (voice of Art Parkinson) is lost by the reawakening of an ancient spirit seeking revenge. With this force unleashed, the young boy runs for his life with only the help of a Monkey (voice of Charlize Theron), a Beetle (voice of Matthew McConaughey), and a magical musical instrument.

Violence C+
Sexual Content A-
Profanity A
Substance Use A

Kubo and the Two Strings is rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril.

Movie Review

“If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see – no matter how unusual it may seem. If you look away, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish.”

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Thus states the opening narration of Kubo and the Two Strings. And it is good advice. Although I’m not sure the hero will perish, I can assure you that anything short of total concentration will kill the viewer’s hopes of following this abstract and metaphorical plotline.  It should also serve as a caution to parents: Don’t assume that a “cartoon” featuring a young protagonist is intended to be children’s entertainment. Instead, this stop-frame animation is aiming to impress an older, artsier crowd. It also wouldn’t hurt if that group had some basic understanding of Asian customs and religious philosophies.

While I don’t entirely fit the demographic this movie is targeting, I still appreciated its beautiful craftsmanship, as well as some of its more universal themes and worthwhile messages. So, if you are prepared to give it a concerted effort, here is what you can expect from the latest endeavor of Laika Entertainment (Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls).

Kubo (voice of Art Parkinson) is a youngster living with his widowed mother (voice of Charlize Theron) in a secluded cave. It is a secure place for her, because her mind wanders. And she claims it is a good hiding spot for him because her evil father (voice of Ralph Fiennes) and sisters (voiced by Rooney Mara) are trying to find the boy and steal his one remaining eye. (Apparently they took the first one when he was a baby. That is why his mom fled from her family and the reason his Dad is dead.) According to her wild tale, where she calls the villain The Moon King, in order to be safe Kubo must never be out after dark.

Whether true or not, her paranoia provides great inspiration for the stories Kubo tells in the local village, where the amused townsfolk toss him a few coins. His impressive act includes playing a guitar-like instrument (a tree-stringed shamisen) that magically brings some origami figures to life. These paper characters act out the adventures Kubo describes. But this simple life comes to an end the night he delays his return to his rocky home until after the moon has come out.

Within moments, two terrifying female figures appear and try to capture Kubo and return him to his powerful grandfather. Only an act of magic is able to postpone the immediate danger, but it also sets him on a perilous quest to find three pieces of armor. To protect and guide him, he has been given a talking monkey (voice of Charlize Theron) as a companion. Along the way the pair encounters a human-faced beetle (voice of Matthew McConaughey) with delusions of once being a Samurai warrior. This often-silly, six-armed soldier insists on joining them.

As you can imagine, things get pretty bizarre as the trio battles a large skeleton, gets hypnotized by giant eyeballs, and faces off against a dragon/snake-like creature. Injuries and deaths result. Yet these difficult circumstances provide the characters with an opportunity to talk about the importance of love and family, beliefs about life after death, and the purpose of sorrow during mortality.

These deep topics, as well as the visuals that accompany them, will be confusing for little ones at best, and just plain scary at worst. That’s why I’d suggest leaving this challenge for those teens and adults who enjoy trying to puzzle a plot together, and are content even if they can’t place all of the pieces. However, connoisseurs who look at animation as an art form, will most likely find this amazing production to be the masterpiece they were hoping for. Just be careful not to blink!

Directed by Travis Knight. Starring Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Matthew McConaughey. Running time: 101 minutes. Theatrical release August 19, 2016. Updated

Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Kubo and the Two Strings here.

Kubo and the Two Strings Parents Guide

This movie features the ancient art of paper folding. Learn how to do your own Origami.

Kubo plays a Shamisen, a guitar-like instrument. His has magical powers. What do you think the “two strings” on the instrument represent? What is the meaning of the third string? How does playing them together create magic? Where does the real power come from?

Why does the Moon King want to take way Kubo’s eyes? What things is he afraid of the young boy seeing? How might being blind allow him to “see” other things? How does your sight influence the way you understand the world, life and the reason for existence?

The script explores the idea of immortality – which is described as a condition with no death and no sorrow. How does that compare to mortality, where death and sorrow are inevitable? What are the pros and cons of each state? Which would you choose if such an option was given to you? Why?

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