Sunday, July 2, 2017

Kubo and the Two Strings

Year 9, Day 183 - 7/2/17 - Movie #2,677

BEFORE: Back to Netflix tonight - I admit I can see no pattern to when some films debut on cable, and why some are on Netflix but not cable - or perhaps they're available On Demand, but why should I pay for them there when I can piggy-back on my wife's Netflix account and watch them for free?  (Essentially...I realize nothing's free in the long run.).  Why should I wait until these films are on premium cable, which might take months, and some may never get there at all?  Like "The Boxtrolls" which never played on the premium channels, it (eventually) went straight to a channel that aired it with commercials.  So I've got to be on Netflix now, change with the times, if I want to see these recent animated films the way they were meant to be seen, without ads.  Though I've got issues with the way Netflix reduced the credits to a little corner of the screen so they can pimp another film on my list with the majority of the screen.  Hey, you know, some of us like to read the credits - and people worked hard to make these films, you shouldn't shrink their names down to microscopic size.  Why doesn't the actors union, or DGA or PGA, step in and tell Netflix (and Starz channel) that they need to run the full credits at full size, or they'll pull the best films off their system?  No respect.

I bring this up tonight because I used to work for the studio that made "Kubo" and "The Boxtrolls", so I probably know some people who worked on this film, and it's a damn shame I won't see their names, thanks to Netflix's shrinking of the credits to a teeny tiny box - even on my giant screen TV,  I won't be able to read them.

Ralph Fiennes carries over from "Lego Batman" (where he played Alfred, and oddly another actor voiced Voldemort instead of him...) and here's how the linking's going to play out in July, leading up to Comic-Con - after tonight there will be 2 more McConaughey films, 3 with Scarlet Johansson, 2 with Bobby Cannavale, 4 with Nick Offerman, 3 with Michael Keaton, 2 with Liev Schreiber, 2 with Rachel McAdams, 3 with Albert Brooks, 3 with John Ratzenberger, and 2 with Cristela Alonso.   But wait, that adds up to 26 films and only 18 slots left until the break.  Ah, but the linkings overlap, so it's all going to work out.  Oh, and they won't all be animated, only 10 out of 18 will be, but that's still a healthy ratio, and hopefully it won't be too jarring to go back and forth between animation and live-action.

THE PLOT: A young boy named Kubo must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past.

AFTER: Damn, but there was a lot of work done to make this film - not just because it was made primarily in stop-motion, which most animators recognize as the most time-consuming of all possible formats, but because it seems to be an original story, not based on any specific Japanese legends, but still maintaining that feel, that it could have been.

Thematically it seems I've been on an orphan kick for the last few days, the girl in "The BFG" was an orphan, then we had Dick Grayson in "Lego Batman", then today we have Kubo.  We see him with his mother, Sariatu, at the start of the story, but she seems to be mentally not all there, and losing a bit more of her awareness every day.   She tells stories to Kubo about his father, Hanzo, when she's coherent, and he retells these stories, casting his absent father as a samurai-style hero, in the marketplace each day - where his guitar playing somehow causes paper to fold itself, origami style, and do fantastic things.  The next part of the story, presumably, was going to be about how his mother's father, the Moon King, and her sisters (some kind of Japanese witches) were going to battle Kubo's father, but somehow instead Hanzo fell in love with Kubo's mother, and that somehow defeated the evil power but cost Hanzo his life.

On the day when the Japanese remember/communicate with their dead relatives, the Bon Festival (which seems to be a variation on the Mexican Day of the Dead), Kubo is upset that he gets no message from his father, but then the Sisters (his aunts) attack and it seems that all of his mother's stories are true.  His mother uses the last of her magic to transport him to a distant land, where he must fulfill the quest from her stories, and obtain the magic sword, helmet and armor breastplate, guided only by a monkey, brought to life from a charm, and a beetle warrior who seems to remember being Hanzo's student.

There are a lot of parallels to "Moana" here - young teen, traveling across strange lands and seas with magical demigod(s), fighting what look like level bosses from a video-game to get the mystical objects and defeat the evil power.  Both heroes also travel under the sea (or the equivalent) and face a giant monster (a crab in one case, giant eyes in the other) - in a sense, these films are all following the Joseph Campbell "Hero's Journey" formula, descend into the underworld, fight the nether beast, defeat the evil power and complete the seemingly-impossible task.

Things got a little confusing here when I realized there were really three strings, not two, on Kubo's guitar, and a different sort of magic resulted from him breaking the strings, rather than the magic that came from plucking them.  I'm still not really sure what happened, there was no time to fully explain it, I guess, before the final battle with the Moon King.  And then Kubo had to re-string his guitar, I had to read the re-cap on Wikipedia to determine how he did this, what materials he used, and what that all meant.  A little more explanation here would have gone a long way, maybe it's me and I just need to watch it again to completely follow it.

Also starring the voices of Charlize Theron (last seen in "Mad Max; Fury Road"), Art Parkinson (last seen in "Dracula Untold"), Matthew McConaughey (last seen in "Bernie"), Brenda Vaccaro, Rooney Mara (last seen in "Pan"), George Takei (last heard in "Mulan"), Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa (last seen in "License to Kill"), Meyrick Murphy, Minae Noji, Alpha Takahashi, Laura Miro, Ken Takemoto.

RATING: 7 out of 10 floating lanterns

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