A beautifully told story, expertly crafted by Writers, Shannon Tindle, Marc Haimes, and Chris Butler, with Travis Knight directing the talents of the Laika (stop motion) animation company.
Prior indications of Laika’s independent spirit can be found in their unique work on The Boxtrolls, as well as ParaNorman and Coraline, which comes across as an excellent convergence of story and style that is a hallmark of Neil Gaiman’s work.
So, from the get-go, I was sold from the visual effects, but also the headlong push into story, “If you must blink … do it now!”
When, at last, I could blink again, I was smiling ear to ear not just pleased with the story I was told, but with the adventure I was invited into. The closing credits give us some insight into the artistry that created Kubo. I felt a wave of pride, as if I, too, helped in making this story possible.
Regarding the story, among the elements that gave it strength for me were the slow character development and establishment of themes. The story wanted us to think, not just about family, and who we are in that context, but about what it is that makes us ourselves. Memory – or rather the loss if it – appears several times as central to the lesson. If we do not know what we have done or where we have come from, how can we claim to know anything about ourselves?
How can we trust a paternalistic (maternalistic?) monkey who arrives from nowhere the morning after Kubo’s mother is taken from him? There is something about her that makes us trust her, but what does that mean?
Kubo comes pre-softened to these issues as he, himself, has been raising his mother in a cave, hidden from the townspeople, where her mind cycles from expressionless to exuberant over the course of a single day. She delights in relating her memories of Kubo’s father – then suddenly spirals into confusion trying to recall a fading dream. And then it’s gone. Her affect crumbles as she falls into catatonia again, completely dependent upon her son’s care.
Later we meet a samurai beetle without a memory of his past self. Once he was human- he feels this is true, but he can’t remember it. He pledges his life to Kubo, but what is his pledge worth without a history of honor to back it up?
Finally, the nexus of action and theme. The Moon King comes to Earth for his grandson, and as promised, he wants Kubo’s other eye. When the dust settles, Kubo is victorious and the Moon King is reduced to an old man, stumbling and completely without memory. This is the part I have trouble with
This is the part I have trouble with: When the King asks who and where he is, Kubo and the townspeople fill his head with false memories of being a kind, generous man. The effect, I suppose is to bring him into the fold of the town as simply as possible, suppressing anything that might trigger his true memories.
But this is the weapon that the Moon King, himself, has used.
Is it acceptable for the townspeople to brainwash the old man into thinking he is someone he’s not? Is is OK for the protagonists to wield the weapon of the antagonist?
I’m reminded of another film that did this: Dreamscape. My reaction was the same – satisfaction and then distress.