MOVIE SYNOPSIS: This animated fantasy follows a young boy named Kubo who must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past.

Reel Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Reels
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril   
Released in Theaters: August 19, 2016
Best for Ages: 9+
Genre: Family, Animated
Runtime: 101 minutes
Directed by: Travis Knight
Studio: Focus Features
Cast: Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Matthew McConaughey, Art Parkinson

MOVIE REVIEW: Set in a fantastical Japan, this epic action-adventure is from director Travis Knight and the animation studio LAIKA, the folks behind "The Boxtrolls," "ParaNorman," and "Coraline." Like those movies, "Kubo and the Two Strings" is beautifully animated (stop-motion), but includes some scary moments and frightening characters that might be too intense for young kids. 

The story follows kind-hearted Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson, who plays Rickon Stark on HBO's  "Game of Thrones"), a young boy who ekes out a living spinning tales to the residents of his seaside town, including Hosato (George Takei), Hashi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and Kamekichi (Brenda Vaccaro).

But there's a dark side to Kubo's life. He also takes care of his mom, who still suffers emotional scars from something that happened previously. She reminds Kubo to never stay out after dark, but when he finds himself in just that situation, he accidentally summons a spirit from his past which threatens to enforce an age-old vendetta.

Now on the run, Kubo joins forces with Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), and sets out on a thrilling quest to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known. With the help of his shamisen - a magical musical instrument - Kubo must battle gods and monsters, including the vengeful Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and the evil twin Sisters (Rooney Mara) to unlock the secret of his legacy, reunite his family and fulfill his heroic destiny.

Director Travis Knight (LAIKA's CEO) has said that "Kubo and the Two Strings" is a tribute to everything from Japanese wood-block painting and the ancient art of origami to the work of Akira Kurosawa and Steven Spielberg. It's a beautiful story with gorgeous stop-motion animation. Theron and McConaughey have great voices to begin with - I especially love their fun banter - but especially paired with Parkinson as the central character.

As mentioned, though, "Kubo and the Two Strings" has some scary characters (floating ghost-sisters!) and intense themes, so I don't recommend it for kids younger than nine years old.

PARENT OVERVIEW: Like LAIKA's other films "Coraline," "ParaNorman," "The Boxtrolls" and "Corpse Bride," "Kubo" is darker and edgier than most kids' movies these days, and best suited for kids aged nine and older. It features frightening characters and epic battles that lead to character injuries and death, including an entire village burning. Language includes a few insults like "idiot" and "stupid," and romance is limited to a few embraces and references to a past love story. Despite the peril, this epic adventure set in an alternative fantasy Japan includes strong themes of teamwork, family and courage. It's a story of a mother and son's love, as well as the tale of a young boy learning how to be a hero.

PARENT DETAILS (May Contain Spoilers):

Violence/Gore: Peril and danger throughout, including fights between several of the characters, some of whom are injured and die. Kubo's eye was "stolen" by his grandfather, who threatens to come back and take the other one. Kubo's father was killed. Beetle is stabbed in the back, a scary skeleton nearly eats Kubo and his friends, and Kubo almost drowns after being hypnotized by sea creatures. The Moon King turns into a frightening giant serpent. An entire village is burned down, but most of the villagers survive. Kubo and his mom wash onto a shore, and his mom hits her head. Ghostly characters terrorize Kubo and say his name in an eerie way.

Sex/Nudity: Kubo's mom recalls how she and his father met and fell in love. Monkey and Beetle banter and flirt a little, and she gives him a soothing massage.

Profanity: Infrequent insults include "stupid," "idiot" and "weak."

Drugs/Alcohol: A grownup smokes a pipe.


One Reel – Even the Force can’t save it.
Two Reels – Coulda been a contender
Three Reels – Something to talk about.
Four Reels – You want the truth? Great flick!
Five Reels – Wow! The stuff dreams are made of.

Jane Boursaw is the film critic and editor-in-chief of Reel Life With Jane. Contact her at in this review used courtesy of the studio and distributor.