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A wonderful consideration of fear, life, and purpose

Imagine an Eastern Wizard of Oz pondering existence and you’ll come away with Kubo. Traumatic events lead a fantastic, magic-imbued adventure, although here, without the softness of Frank Baum’s icon. Kubo’s story relishes the chance to deliver critical realizations of life’s purpose, doing so with the elegance of samurai swordplay.

Complex, both in terms of animated fluidity and its adherence to cyclical, at times poetic dialog, Kubo’s surprising strength comes from multiple platforms. Kubo himself feeds on anger, but with a childish playfulness and comical naivete as shown through his storytelling skills. Through the film, he’s healing from a past he didn’t know and a distressed mother who barely cares for herself.

The adventure itself is typical, a hunt for three mystical items which when put together, can defeat the villain. Much of this reads like generic fairytale fodder. Kubo isn’t so simple, draped in mysticism and magic with some empowering story movements, jarring the film from its comfortable, steady base.

It’s a difficult sell to the PG-age crowd, although the necessary, formulaic comedy proves reliable. Side characters, however, don’t cling only to their humor. Each significantly impacts the narrative, finding a purpose to enrich Kubo. Their identities solidify Kubo’s aspirations of retelling classic folktales, yet in a visually captivating format.

Kubo fights for its style of edification, and does so with class

Laika drifts toward these kinds of stories. Coraline and Paranorman swirled with depictions of deathly apparitions, although close to their contemporary American source. Kubo’s hearty symbolism skews foreign, laced with Japanese mythos, and certainly cultural appropriation were Kubo not so relentlessly pure or authentic.

Dealing with the afterlife, Laika’s work embodies the frame of a religious film. If too direct, then philosophically charged, even if the two go together. Consideration of the afterlife veer from the Western depictions – no angels, no heavens, and no sci-fi zombies. Instead, rebirth and continuation, Shinto values which butt against the finite form of Western Christianity. Kubo fights for its style of edification, and does so with class.

Although Kubo secretes action, it closes on a theme of togetherness and positivity. Kubo, now free of his past, puts forth his zeal for life. That wins over his vengeful side, a wonderful, thematically rich character arc which sees a storyteller understand the needs of finality, but also the joy of reaching the conclusion. Kubo’s ability as a tool, to soften the fear of death, comes compounded by its engrossing stop motion form. Making this a traditional road movie, a journey of learning, physical tests, and emotional entanglements, only elevates the metaphor.

Kubo and the Two Strings Blu-ray screen shot 14


Awash in different color palettes and flushed with saturation, the Blu-ray from Universal deserves high praise. Sensational texture makes brush strokes and hand-crafted elements sing in HD. Each model, miniature set, and digital backdrop gives the film a special visual life. This disc has no impediment to appreciating every shred of craftsmanship.

Detail matters in a film like this. Free from any drops in resolution, each frame displays total precision. Sand/snow on the ground resolves to individual grains/flakes. Kubo’s (and everyone else) clothing comes with visible stitches. Long shots of towns, oceans, or forests preserve the intricate detailing of the models, digital or physical.

No scenes are more impressive than another. Thanks to faultless compression methods, moments which flood the screen with information avoid potential issues. Swells of smoke, rushing water, and heavy snowfall hold together. Exquisite contrast increases the boldness, including the incredible shadows and vivid daylight, especially early as Kubo visits his local town. A marvelous disc.

Oddly, it’s not the 3D showcase expected. At the peaks, Kubo’s awesome living origami shows or other pop-out heavy scenes push the format. Some of the key action scenes (even those set at night) go for broke when it comes to breaking the front plane. Ambient effects like rain show off a touch too.

The rest is blah, rarely offering fall in material and squandering the foreground potential. Most of Kubo looks held back, unwilling to really push the format or utilize its best possibilities. It’s not flat – the depth is there, just below that of stronger, better discs.


Surprising in its amount of LFE, Kubo comes equipped with the ever more familiar DTS-HD. Like AVC conquering VC-1 early in the format’s life, it seems DTS won the audio codec battle, save for those films encoded in Dolby Atmos.

Immediately in action, this track captures a wave, nicely enveloping the soundstage before slamming down with force. Later, a brawl with a skeleton thunders to life. Each footstep rocks the low-end, digging far deeper than any other animated feature of 2016.

Spreading around the dialog and action, directionality proves active. Subtle touches bring the story additional life. The forests come alive with animal calls while a conversation inside of a whale spreads a wide echo. Action moves as needed, if not with specificity then accurate, organic tracking. Positional channels won’t stand out, yet still fill with material.


Hopefully it wasn’t the cool box office which hurt Kubo’s behind-the-scenes dissection. The 28-minute Kubo’s Journey lacks the depth for something this ambitious, and the two middling EPKs which follow fail to enlighten further. You’ll need the commentary from director Travis Knight for anything in-depth.

Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process. Patreon supporters were able to access these screens early, view them as .pngs, and gain access to 19 Kubo exclusives.

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