Sunday, September 18, 2016

If you must blink, do it now.

I love a good story. Always have. But if there's one thing that I love more than a good story, it's a good storyteller. If only they weren't so elusive...

When I listen to my students tell stories (something certain kids love to do), they all too often inject their tale with lies and half-truths because they lack confidence and live in fear that their audience will turn against them. My son, who's seven, tends to lose track of where he's headed, and I generally (and impatiently) take over, leaving him to fill in the blanks. But my daughter? All three years of her? That little girl can spin the most elaborate tales I've ever heard.

Too bad they're all make believe. Like, over-the-top dogs broke into my room and bit all my dresses level of imagination. Hopefully, I'll still be alive...

...when she finally starts telling the truth.

Kubo and the Two Strings isn't like any other animated movie you'll see this year. While the breathtaking visuals and stellar voice-cast are beyond reproach, other top-tier animated films can boast similar accomplishments. Kubo distances itself by not only having a living, beating heart and soul, but a willingness to explore what it is to be alive...when everyone you care about is dead.

Despite living with overwhelming adversity in his daily life, Kubo is a good kid. A really good kid. When he finally reaches town each day (after a brutal hike from the cave he lives in with his sick mother), he earns what little money he can by wowing the villagers with brilliant tales of mystical heroes. While any good storyteller can make their characters feel alive, Kubo's actually are. Sort of, anyway, as he possesses the ability to make beautiful origami creations actually act out his captivating narrative. It's a great show, and even the most downtrodden members of his village get the chance to escape their troubles for a moment and be enthralled with the adventures of Hanzo the legendary samurai. Good storytelling, it seems, is pure magic.

But so are the evil forces that are coming after Kubo when he fails to come home before dark.

When Kubo was much younger, one of his eyes was taken by his grandfather (known as the Moon King), and if the boy is out at night, Gramps is coming down to complete the set. And after Kubo mistakenly/selfishly stays out too late one night, his completely terrifying aunts show up to collect the eye for their father. Luckily Kubo's ailing mother ain't having any of this this, and she intervenes and saves her son's life...while sacrificing her own. Now, this poor kid who basically had nothing to begin with? Now, he's got even less.

Like every single thing that appears on screen, Little Hanzo is visually stunning.
Kubo awakes in a blizzard and comes face to face with Monkey, a stern animal insistent on keeping him safe from the evil Moon King. There's something familiar about Monkey, but Kubo can't quite place it. Soon, they are joined by a paper samurai and a decidedly unsure giant man-Beetle thing, and all head off on a quest to find the three items that will protect young Kubo from evil: armor, a helmet and an unbreakable sword. And their journey begins...

While I wouldn't have a problem with anyone that didn't love Kubo and the Two Strings, I'd be crushed if they didn't really, really like it. Despite its awe-inspiring visuals and masterful use of symbolism, Kubo can be a bit laborious. For whatever reason (uh, likely all the death and loneliness), it can feel very heavy-handed at times...while simultaneously being full of small joys and big laughs. A story where everyone ends up dead that is still fun and beautiful along the way?

Sounds a lot, actually.

Not at all like something one should experience, here are the Yays and Boos. It's been quite some time since we caught Kubo theatrically, so keep in mind that also just like life...things that are unforgettable, can also be hard to remember.

Quite the family portrait, right?
  • I currently have some students that have some sick origami skills, but compared to Kubo? They've got nothing.
  • The connection between mother and son was tremendous. Kubo's a great storyteller, sure, but those stories are all mom's.
  • Are you serious? We get an 'Oh, myyyy' from George Takei? So, what you're saying is...dreams do come true, don't they?
  • That old lady at the market was rad. Unlike real old ladies at the real market...who are altogether not rad.
  • Second time this year I've seen a character in a film seek refuge in a dead whale. Can we make this a thing, please?
  • Matthew McConaughey! Not only am I just stoked as Hell that I'm getting this dude outside of a creepy car commercial, but I genuinely loved the playful silliness his voice brings to Beetle. Loved that guy.
  • The quest for the sword was amazing. Maybe one of the coolest things I have ever seen.
  • Well, outside of the boat made entirely of leaves, naturally.
  • Monkey vs. Aunts battle was crazy intense! (those ladies we're haunting, no?) 
  • Grandpa's earthly form was simultaneously beautiful and creepy. I get this guy's quest for his grandson...but I think he's going about it the wrong way, you know?
  • Regina Spektor covering While My Guitar Gently Weeps for the end credits? Yes, please. 
  • And finally, I love the message that Kubo so delicately delivers, the idea that even if our loved ones are gone, through memories and stories they will remain with us forever. While children who have lost their parents will certainly relate and hopefully feel comforted, the message universally lifts us all. I wasn't expecting something so serious and touching when I brought my son to the theater, but I certainly appreciate what we both left with: each other.
When I was kid, I used to draw a lot of these eyeball things.
I'm really not sure why, either.
  • A little kid taking care of his mother who is deteriorating mentally? Guess I'll put the popcorn down.
  • While I'm too tired to remember anything I dream about, hopefully my son forgets some of the super creepy things trying to kill Kubo. Those sisters are still messing with my head.
  • Monkey is hardcore with the rules and such. Kind of reminds me of my mom, actually. The mom of my youth, not this grandmother version...where anything goes.
  • Oh, and another Boo for Monkey's smokey voice, courtesy of Charlize Theron. I'm trying to listen to your epic guidance...and I'm finding myself oddly...enchanted? I feel like running over guys in the desert for some reason...
  • That eyeball monster thing pictured above? Scary...but awesome. Watching Beetle shoot arrows into its eyes? Awesome...but scary.
  • (for the record, I was exhausted during this one, so any thing I say good or bad is pure speculation, honestly)
  • And finally, Grandpa's grand plan. I get why you want to take your grandson's remaining eye, sure, but I'm sure there's another way to arrive at your grand plan, you know? Maybe enroll him in a private school and live on TV-less farm, perhaps?
We (rightfully) opted to leave my daughter at home for this one, and instead let her have some time at the house without her older brother around. See, for whatever reason, Violet is an infinitely-worse child when her big brother is anywhere within a fifteen-foot radius of her. Instantly, she screams and demands that she was playing with whatever he was considering touching and that Matty has to get away from her RIGHT NOW!

This isn't going to last for the next decade, is it? She'll level out and become completely rational, right?

Wait. What's that? The truth is that it's never ever going to end...? Really? I wish you didn't tell me that.

Couldn't you have just made up a good story instead?


  1. I'm a teacher, too, man. Middle School. English Language Arts. What do you teach? Speaking of school and this movie, we are actually taking some students over to our local old school movies house to see this for an incentive. It sounds great. Excellent review!

    1. Whuuuuut? Me too, man. Middle School. English Language Arts (...and Social Studies). Ten years.

      Whoa, let me know how that goes as I would love to be able to show my students this film...even if I'm not sure it would hold their attention (at least my one class...yikes).

      I really hope you enjoy it. I've heard a lot of grumbling about how it's not that good...but to me, that's all nonsense. And, obviously, I know all about nonsense. You do too.

    2. Crazy! I'm in my 8th year. Have taught both 7th and 8th grade. This is one of the options our little movie theater gave us, so we'll see... I'm looking forward to it.

    3. 8? Not bad at all. I've spent the majority of my years in 7th, but I've bounced around in 8th and seem to have finally settled in 6th. And to think, all I wanted to do was teach 5th.

  2. Hehe, I'm glad I found your blog mate, you make me laugh. This sounds great, I'm bummed I missed it now :( The internet will deliver soon though!

    1. Hahahha...yes! I'm going for laughs all the time (cheap or otherwise), so I'm glad this little sideshow entertained you!

      If you get the chance, I'd certainly recommend this one. It's pretty deep, man. Totally worth checking out, unless you want something fluffy (cause this ain't that, trust me)

      Thanks for the kind words!!!

  3. Best animated film of the year? Quite possibly! I was so blown away by the stop motion in this one, it's just so clever! Great review mate.

    1. Even though I saw them all, I'm having a helluva time thinking about what else came out this year? Oh...right...Finding Dory. Well, that would be a toss-up with me, as I really really liked Dory, but Kubo was excellent too.

      But my goodness...this film was astonishing to look at. Completely breathtaking, right?

      Thanks, Rhys!

  4. I'm glad you liked this! I did too, even though my kid couldn't get around the fact that Kubo had three strings on his guitar-thing for most of the movie. "Why isn't it called Kubo and the THREE strings?!"

    1. I did like it. I thought it was a very touching look at loss through the eyes of a young kid. I also totally dug the storytelling aspect of it, and how Kubo and his mom were badass storytellers.

      But while your son was asking tough questions, I think mine was just happy with origami samurai guy. Not that I blame him...