Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Review: Kubo and the Two Strings (second-pass)

Kubo and the Two Strings (2D / second-pass / THEMATIC SPOILERS)
Cert: PG / 102 mins / Dir. Travis Knight / Trailer

After watching Kubo and the Two Strings for the first time on Saturday and being thoroughly overwhelmed by it, I wrote up a gushing love-letter masquerading as a review and set about reading some of the others online (after planning this second visit, of course). Other than similar levels of admiration for the film, what put an even wider grin on my face was that almost every piece I read went out of its way to directly reference the film's opening monologue. So clearly and powerfully is it delivered, grabbing the audience's attention and setting up the kaleidoscopic framework of the storytelling, that the words "If you must blink, do it now..." will surely become round-table shorthand for penning an excellent script. And much like The Book of Life, the film handles spirituality, faith and tradition in a respectful but totally non-dogmatic and non-patronising way. This film is outstanding.

Another thing which cropped up, albeit less frequently, was debate of the film's PG certificate in the UK. The BBFC (the UK's film certification body, similar to the MPAA in the US)'s guidelines state that "frightening sequences or situations where characters are in danger should not be prolonged or intense. Fantasy settings may be a mitigating factor. Violence will usually be mild. However there may be moderate violence, without detail, if justified by its context (for example, history, comedy or fantasy)". Short version: this should be fine, but obviously don't just park your kids in front of it while you go to Wetherspoons, yeah?

Now at no point did the reviews necessarily suggest that the rating for Kubo should be at the next level up, a 12A (even if one article specifically claimed the film is really an animation for grown-up audiences only), but several of them were worried that the darker moments would be too scary for younger members of the audience. And I got the distinct impression they didn't mean three-and-four year olds, but children in general. To which I call bullshit, frankly.

Yes, Kubo has scary sections. They're supposed to be scary. The level of threat is no worse than in many of Disney's classic animated features (and keep in mind that while the likes of Cruella de Vil can indeed exist in the world outside the cinema, the threats in this film are framed in a magical enough context that no child should be worried for long about them actually happening). Because of the story's metaphorical nature, young Kubo faces literal ghosts and demons here, and although our hero possesses the ability to perform magic, it can't be used as a weapon for attack and he doesn't wield it as one.

And it's important that Kubo's foes are supernaturally powerful, because that way he won't be able to beat them with conventional violence, even with the magic armour he quests for- the film's macguffin, in a very real sense, since Kubo already carries with him the means of ending the conflict. It's also vital that the hero learns this on his own, rather than just being told it by the Monkey and Beetle guardians (who also learn this through Kubo's actions).

Naturally there will be a cut-off point at which children are too young get what's going on (this applies to any movie), but if they're old enough to understand why the hero is in peril, they they're old enough to learn from the film. The scary moments in Kubo are more than compensated for by the film's message, indeed they're part of it. Some media will require a parent to sit down with their child afterwards to talk about what they've seen, read or listened to. It doesn't mean that's bad content, often the very opposite. I believe that discussion is called parenting*1. But hey, you know your kids.

The 'G' in PG stands for guidance, not gatekeeper...

If the film isn't scary then there's no weight to the story and we're not willing Kubo to succeed. Because the lesson here isn't to be fearful, but that fear can be overcome with knowledge, with persistence, with acceptance. Kubo doesn't defeat his nemesis with violence, he does it with compassion. And not in a 'I've decided to spare my enemy at the last moment and hey we're all friends now' sort of a way, but a clean slate that benefits everyone, with no aggrandisement of the victor or shame upon the loser. There are no losers, here.

Kubo and the Two Strings teaches us that while there's certainly a time to stand fiercely against the things which oppose you, a warrior's greatest weapon isn't their sword, but their heart. And you're never too young to learn that lesson...

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Any of Laika's previous work, and maybe a little Samurai Jack?.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
I'd say so.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Well, I shall look sternly over my spectacles whilst you explain yourself, I imagine.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There ain't.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This film's got George Takei's voice in it, and he is most famous of course for portraying the Nemoidian shrubbery-menace Lok Durd in The Clone Wars.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Although I say this as someone who doesn't have children. But I did used to be one, and it wasn't that long ago...

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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