After being saved by his mother from her father, who stole one of his eyes, as an infant, Kubo (voice of Art Parkinson, "San Andreas") now lives with her in a cave high above the sea. Mother's grip on reality is unsteady since she dashed her head against a rock all those years ago, so Kubo makes a meager living entertaining the nearby Japanese fishing village with the tale of his late, heroic father, his magical shamisen instrument animating paper origami. Joining the lantern festival honoring deceased ancestors where he hopes to learn more about the man than his mother's fragile memory allows, Kubo's caught away from home after dark, his mother's number one rule, and he unleashes her two fantastical sisters (voice of Rooney Mara) who wish to spirit him back to their father, the Moon King (voice of Ralph Fiennes) in "Kubo and the Two Strings."
Laika President, CEO and lead animator Travis Knight makes his directorial debut leaning on his visual talent with a lumpy original Japanese folk lore-inspired story from Shannon Tindle and Marc Haimes (who also cowrote the screenplay with "ParaNorman's" Chris Butler) that lacks emotional resonance. It's a shame, really, because the artful CGI enhanced stop motion imagery is inspired, from the cracked porcelain face of Kubo's mother, to the intricate folds of origami and beauty of lit lanterns floating down a river.
After making it back home, Kubo's mother uses her magic to bring the beetle wings embroidered on the back of his kimono to life, instructing him to find his father's Armor Impenetrable, Sword Unbreakable, and Helmet Invulnerable. He awakens in a blizzard, a talking monkey (voice of Charlize Theron) leading him to shelter in the carcass of a whale. No sooner have they begun their quest when they're joined by a humorously irritating Samurai Beetle (voice of Matthew McConaughey).
Frankly, the story feels like an amalgamation of "Kung Fu Panda" and "Life of Pi" with the three quests and stolen eye of Greek mythology. It's too sophisticated for younger kids and too much of a hodgepodge for adults, its ending a fairy tale cop out. One character is so at odds with its origin, one suspects the writers took their (rather transparent) sleight of hand too far to force their 'twist.' Even the gorgeous visuals can be forced, the origami so intricate one of the villagers accuses Kubo of cheating. The mostly Westernized vocal talent (George Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa supply the voices of two villagers) doesn't mesh with its Asian inspiration, only Mara achieving something otherworldly. (This type of thing is fine in an animated panda, but here it doesn't jibe.) Brenda Vaccaro adds some humor as jolly village elder Kameyo.
"Kubo and the Two Strings" is worthwhile for its visuals, but its words and pictures are discordant. Regina Spektor's cover of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" over closing credits is lovely, but indicative of the film's identity crisis.
Robin did not see this film.
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