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Animation Addicts 130: ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ – Who’s the Monkey?

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Kubo and the Two Stings just hit theaters and in this episode of the Animation Addicts Podcast, the Rotoscopers talk about what they thought.

Highlights

  • Main Discussion: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
  • Kubo at the box office. Why hasn’t it done very well?
  • What is the deal with the mom? Dementia? Brain damage? Other?
  • The design of the sisters was amazing. 10 out of 10.
  • What’s the deal with Monkey? We explain it to Mason.
  • Voicemails: Alec, Dylan, Hannah, Joey, Ryan, and Sarah

Runtime: 01:16:53, 36.9 MB

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About Morgan Stradling

Morgan is a native of Arizona and desert rat who loves the heat--she doesn’t even turn on the AC in her car in the middle of the summer! She loves big eyeliner, SURVIVOR, Lady Gaga, and, of course, animated films. She just graduated with her MBA in Marketing from ASU and now works as a Project Manager for a tech company. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
  • Brooks Austin

    The top two main movies I really wanted to go see in theaters this year were Zootopia and Kubo and both movies totally blew it out of the water for me and quickly became my favorites of the year. I always try to go and support stop motion animated movies in theaters because I want this medium to succeed. I fell in love with this film right in the first moment in the trailer with how breathtaking the animation was. I loved the epic story, the unique and weird but lovable characters, and as an anime fan, I especially adored all the Japanese cultural elements of the film. The movie was just perfect to me from start to finish. ParaNorman is still my favorite Laika movie but Kubo comes really close and I ended up personally giving it a five star rating myself.

    As for why Laika’s movies and stop motion animation in general seems to b a tough sell in the U.S., I think part of it has to do with when these movies end up being released in U.S. theaters. They always seem to come out during late August when the summer blockbuster season is already over and most kids are already back to school and parents are probably too busy to take their kids to see an animated movie that will likely wind up on Netflix in a few months after their kids already spent the summer going to see superhero and Disney movies. Maybe if Laika released their movies earlier in the summer, they might see better results. Surely they must be prestigious enough of a studio by now to be able to compete directly with Disney and Pixar? Shaun the Sheep came out around the same time and also sadly did poorly in U.S. theaters.

    The other reason is I think that unfortunately Laika’s might be almost too complex and dark for most kids to appreciate the film. I love Laika because they’re not afraid to tackle more serious themes in their movies and be a little riskier with their content. But I tried to get one of my friends to introduce Laika movies to his daughter. Unfortunately, he said his daughter was just kind of bored by the movie and I definitely feel like Laika’s movies are the type of film you need to be a little older to appreciate their messages for. Even with Shaun the Sheep, while it has a simpler plot, I remember a lot of my friends and family members last year who weren’t familiar with the series were very confused by the movie’s lack of dialog. It would be interesting to see how Laika would do if they produced a more light hearted film for a change instead of all these grim dark stories they seem to focus on.

    • Jeremiah Bok

      Interesting, the kids in my theater were very attentive.

      • Brooks Austin

        The kids at my theater seemed to enjoy the movie too but they looked to be older kids so maybe age also has to do with it.

        • Jeremiah Bok

          Maybe, it was mostly very little kids in my theater though, including a few three or four year olds.

    • racy1285

      I think its a bad idea. To release it in the early summer. Laika is not a big enough to the mainstream audience to go headsup with not just other animated films but all the summer blockbusters in general. It will be a bloodbath far worse than whats happening now. Honestly they should just avoid summer altogether i think. Coraline was their biggest grosser and that film was released Feb. They should just go back to that strategy of getting the families who just wants to have a good time during weekends after work and school during the year. And just let the heavy hitters have the summer.

  • coasterguy11

    Okay, I’m going to propose a different way to think about the whole movie. Travis Knight has publicly said that Kubo has a very “meta” story. In other words, it’s self-aware. Think of it as a story about a story. And what is the meta-story going on between the lines? I think it goes something like this: Kubo’s an orphan, and he’s living with his grandfather after his mother died (his aunts were the ones who brought him there). This grandfather wants the best for Kubo, but he’s very different and very strict. Because he’s missing his other eye, the young Kubo comes up with the idea that his grandfather stole his other eye. Perhaps what is most frustrating to Kubo is that his grandfather is losing his memory. He can no longer share stories about Kubo’s mother (and more importantly, I’m guessing he can’t even remember how Kubo’s parents died). This scares Kubo, as he believes that these are the last memories of his parents that he will ever get to learn. In this way, Kubo’s heroic quest is almost purely psychological and hinges on his ability to memorialize his parents through his storytelling skills. Obviously the shamisen becomes the core of this quest, and it appropriately invades the sub-story (what we see on screen) as Kubo discovers its true power.

    So, with this framework, let’s look at some of the weird plot inconsistencies.

    First, his mother’s memory loss: this is an impression of Kubo’s own memories of her, and more significantly, his father. He’s afraid of losing the only memories of his parents that he has, and this manifests through his mother losing her own memory. The way her memory loss waxes and wanes throughout the opening sequence seems to defy logic – and this seems to indicate that it’s Kubo’s own memory that’s faltering. To a lesser extent, this also explains the erratic memory-loss curse on Beetle. It’s a recurring theme, and it’s clearly central to the plot.

    Next, his parents manifesting themselves in multiple forms (sometimes simultaneously): this is a device that’s meant to separate his real parents from the ones going with him on his made-up adventure. On a figurative level, this is Kubo’s acknowledgement that his parents can’t actually accompany him where he needs to go – but that they are welcome to join him in his imagination. It’s a sweet message, and this is probably the one which was conveyed the clearest in the movie.

    Then we have the elusive shamisen, never mentioned by name in the movie. Why is this prop so all-important yet so arbitrary throughout the plot? Because the shamisen can be anything to anyone. It’s just the object that made Kubo strong when he needed to be. It’s what he loved, and it’s what reminded him most of his family. For someone else, the shamisen would be a completely different object, like a locket or an old photograph.

    And lastly we come back to the Moon King. I think that the Moon King and Kubo’s grandfather are meant to be examined as two different characters. This is hinted at from the very beginning of the movie when Kubo’s mother admonishes him for calling his grandfather the Moon King. Kubo is trying to unload all of his fears and frustrations onto his grandfather, and this is how the Moon King is born. These concerns are only compounded by the fact that the man is losing his own memory, the easiest route Kubo has to reaching his parents. When Kubo is finally able to find the spirits of his parents at the end of the movie, he realizes that he doesn’t need to depend on his grandfather to figure out how the story ends. It isn’t a coincidence that this is precisely when the Moon King vanishes and releases a very different grandfather for the concluding scene.

    Unfortunately, Kubo and the Two Strings is so fluid and so figurative in its storytelling that it’s very hard to verbalize what’s actually going on. But I can say that this story is way tighter than it appears at first glance, largely because it depends heavily on the artistic liberties of storytelling. There are always truths to be found, even in the tallest of tales.

    Before I sign out, I’d like to point out that, much like the movie, the Dario Marianelli’s soundtrack is impressively nuanced and warrants some extra attention. Although the shamisen is not given a name in the movie, the score makes sure to imbue it with a proper identity. The instrument forms the backbone for the entire orchestra here, as if the entire movie score is the song that Kubo is playing on his shamisen. I’m sure this is the point, and it’s very well done.

    You guys led a fun discussion, and I’m glad that you enjoyed the movie! I definitely did too.

  • racy1285

    Mason asked what other films have Grandfathers as villians?

    The two that come to mind are “Chinatown” and “The Visit”.

  • Sarah/ Princess Morgan

    I loved Kubo!I went with my best friend and her mom and we all three were blown away. Also gracias for the birthday shoutout <3