Kubo and the Two Strings is just as magical and thoughtful as the trailers will have you believe. In addition to being visually stunning, the film manages to get a fairly complicated plot across to the viewer with very little trouble. The tight construction of the film makes it one of the best to come out this summer.
As Kubo travels with his companions Monkey and Beetle, the viewer is able to get a good sense of the world in which they are inhabiting. Clearly, the movie is meant to be set in Japan, but there are a lot of magical rules that dictate how the universe works. For instance, spirit magic is prevalent throughout the film. While the characters provide basic explanations, the audience learns about these things along with Kubo. Not everything is explicitly stated, but this allows the viewer to go as deep into the world as they would like. The visual clues on the characters and in the environment provide a much deeper story than what is ever mentioned by any character.
Visually, the film is stunning. All of the places to which the characters adventure are colorful and full of interesting detail. The town Kubo calls home especially is given a lot of depth. At each time of day, the town looks different despite having the same feature: the bustling and populated daytime, the warm and calm evening, and the cold, mysterious night.
Each of the characters in the film is fully developed and interesting. Their personality gets across clearly and, most importantly, they are all likeable. Even the villains in the film have clear motivation beyond simply being evil. The dialogue is expert and the characters in modeled in a way that portrays a lot of expression. Even Monkey, a very serious character, is able to get across plenty of emotion.
Unfortunately though, one of the key problems with the film is the casting. While each of the actors are brilliant in their roles, it is disconcerting that white actors were cast to portray Japanese characters. Historically, this has been the case in many films, and portrayals are often racist. While it is slightly different considering the character models are clearly Japanese (and you can’t see the white actors, but can only hear their voices), having a movie with white actors playing the Japanese main characters and Asian actors playing minor roles is less than ideal in 2016.
On a purely cinematic level, this movie is brilliant and will definitely be a contender for best animated film of 2016. However, the casting issue is definitely something to consider when choosing whether or not to see the film. On a separate note, Moana, which will be released in October, has actors of color playing the characters in the film.