Movie Review—Kubo And The Two Strings

Jon Speed comments
| Entertainment

This movie has been rated PG by the MPAA. Click here for parental guide from IMDb.

Kubo And The Two Strings

Directed by Travis Knight, written by Marc Haimes & Chris Butler, produced by Laika.  Starring Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara and George Takei. 

“Don’t blink.” The opening line of this film might be the best in film this year. Don’t blink is right. Don't blink because you won’t want to. This film is a visual feast. The studio that brought us Coraline has advanced stop-motion technology to even greater heights of imagination and artistry. Superlatives don’t do it justice. You have to see it. And while you are at it, make plans to get the Blu-Ray because you will want to see how they made the giant skeleton (sit through the credits). 

Yes, it is that good. Yes, it is groundbreaking. Yes, it is fine art and shows us that stop-motion can outperform CGI when real artists are at work. They will win awards for this and they will deserve each one. 

But art isn’t just visual. Film has textual content and this film has some hiccups in the writing and acting department. Perhaps this is a chemistry issue between Matthew McConaghey and Charlize Theron but the dialogue when their characters meet is forced and the humor, well, just isn’t very funny (although it gets better). Some of it is too predictable. And when the big “reveal” between their characters takes place, it’s simply not believable. Fortunately, the imagery is so breathtaking their dialogue ends up being just a minor annoyance. I found myself wishing they would just shut up so I could watch the film. 

The greatest misstep of the film, however, is not technical. It is philosophical. This film shows us that life without God is meaningless. And when I say “God” I mean the only God that exists. The God of the Bible. 

For the sake of full disclosure this production company has a track record of confused worldviews. Coraline was a primer on what scholars call the magic world view. That film will help you understand more about the origins of Mormonism and its roots in 19th century magic than a lot of books. In Coraline, these references make for a good old fashioned creepy story. I don’t think anyone pays much attention to seer stones these days, but I could be wrong. 

What we have in Kubo And The Two Strings is a change of scenery and plot device. We move from American to Japanese religion. However it is a typically Americanized and romanticized view of Eastern religion. In this mishmash of Taoism / Buddhism we are told that the only things that really matter in our lives are memories and stories. Specifically, the memories we create with our loved ones and the stories we can tell about them. While the power of story is evident even in Biblical Christianity (witness the narrative passages of the Bible and the parables of Jesus), the real issue is truth. The Bible tells stories to teach truth. In this version of Eastern religion, the stories we concoct are truth. Your truth. My truth. You have heard all of this before. It’s typical postmodernism and warmed over humanistic relativism.

Spoiler alert.  You’ve been warned. 

At the end of the film, the villain who is guilty of murder, the destruction of his family, and the destruction of a village is brought back from the dead without a single memory of anything he has done in his afterlife of destruction. Poor guy. He seems like a typical nice old man and the village has an opportunity to redeem him by lying to him and telling him what a nice guy he was. Fiction becomes a means of redemption.

Wait a minute. Excuse me? Why does he need redemption? Why are they forgiving him? I’m not asking to be vindictive. These are honest questions. Where do you get forgiveness in eastern religion? Where is the mercy in reincarnation? You do good, you come back as a higher life form. You do bad, you come back as a slug on a pile of yak poop. No mercy there. More to the point, no forgiveness there either. So where did this idea of mercy come from?

These film makers cannot make this film without stealing from the Christian worldview. Which they do anyway when they insinuate little things like good and evil.  The problem is their atonement is man-centered and without justice. The beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that justice is not short-circuited. The demands of justice were met at the cross. They are not ignored. God fulfilled the righteous demands of His own Law when Jesus bore the penalty that Law demanded on our behalf. Forgiveness has a basis in God Himself. In this film, forgiveness is focused on overlooking evil for the sake of nice. 

In other words, this film is just another propaganda piece for Hollywood’s version of tolerance—we can all get along if we will just ignore evil. Even the evil that is done to us. In this sense the film is a contradiction. It is artistically beautiful. It has shown us what animation can be. But its power to deceive is exactly proportionate to its beauty. 

I live in one of the most postmodern cities in the nation: Syracuse, New York. I like to walk through a local cemetery on my walks. It is an education in how a postmodern community views death. Our neighborhood is a mix of various faiths about three generations removed from regular Christian church attendance. How does such a community deal with death? 

Although there are some Buddhists in our community (Zen Buddhism is growing here) most don’t attend any religious service regularly. And yet a form of ancestor worship appears regularly in our cemetery. I’m talking elaborate shrines decorated with pictures of family, hobbies, favorite sports teams, winning lotto ticket numbers, the names of favorite pets engraved on tombstones. Just this morning I saw a family member sitting at one such shrine on a bench left there for that purpose. These people are not Buddhists. But when you take the Gospel out of a community all you are left with is each other. When people die, all you have are memories and stories. And if that is all you have, you do all you can to keep those memories and stories alive. 

But you cannot. I can walk to the older parts of the cemetery, and there are no shrines there. No one remembers them. Their families have probably moved away. If the truth is found in memories and stories, there is no truth when no one is left to remember. Even if there were, memories and stories are often clouded by time and fantasy. In either case all we’re left with is our version of the truth. Which is often a lie. 

The Gospel on the other hand conquers death. It doesn’t try to make sense of death by concocting traditions that comfort—no, the Gospel obliterates death altogether. Jesus rose from the dead and conquered it once and for all time. He gave His people life everlasting. 

It’s really a shame that film studios like Laika won’t use their finances to present a story that offers real hope. Their talent and artistry should be used to glorify God rather than man.  I hope that one day it will be. 



Jon Speed

Jon is married to Kimberly and they have four children with another on the way in November. He is a bivocational church planting pastor in postmodern Syracuse, NY since 2011. His "other" job is as a used and rare book seller operating Jon Speed: The Book Scout (since 1994). He currently operates a brick and mortar book shop on the south side of Syracuse, near Nedrow. You can check it out at Jon is the author of Evangelism in the New Testament (2009) and co-produced the pro-life docuentary, Babies Are Murdered Here (2014).

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