Legends, myths and fairy tales... In nearly every culture we repeat tales with similar themes to our children in their beds — the hero's journey, the trickster who changes the world, the goddesses and the warriors and the beasts that crouch in the shadows.
It's all bullshit. Or at least, highly unlikely: no one was really turned to stone by meeting the gaze of a chick with snaky hair, and a rainbow-coloured crow didn't actually grab the sun in his beak and char his entire species the colour black for the rest of time.
We read and recount these lies to our children because the moral of a story sinks so much deeper than the point of a lecture. The witches, wizards and woodcutters of lore are the immortal keepers of our ethics, taboos and fears and fairy tales offer glimpses into the shadier aspects of humanity and prepare them for the darkness that will try to creep deeper into their hearts with each passing year.
On the other side, we sign off on singing teapots and talking animals because we know the honest magic of a child's imagination is the best way to manufacture hope (and we know that imagination won't last forever). We lie to our kids for their own good, and the stories we tell will mould the future.
This is why it's good to get those iPhone-addicted little fuckers in front of a nice diverse bunch of feature-length stories from time to time, and Kubo and the Two Strings fits the bill nicely. Opening this week in both normal and 3D, Kubo is the directorial debut of Travis Knight, head animator at Laika, the hitmaking animation studio behind Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls. And it's awesome.
Set in ancient Japan, Kubo is an adventure-quest tale about a young storyteller with one eye and the magical, musical ability to create living origami characters that play and dance along as he weaves incredible tales for his village. Of course, Kubo's peaceful life won't last and soon the lad is off on a quest to defeat an evil Moon King. Luckily, he has a Rosencrantz-and-Guildenstern-esque duo, Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Bug (Matthew McConaughey) along to assist and entertain as a hero rises.
Mixing Joseph Campbell's mono-myth with Shinto and Buddhist philosophy, Kubo is kind of like The Lion King meets Akiro Kurosawa, but with some surf-punk guitar riffs tossed in. Knight and his team are not afraid to examine darker themes like the death of a parent but they do it from a refreshing (for North American audiences) perspective that helps elevate this otherwise recognizable adventure tale of a small boy in a big world.
To raise the bar even higher, Kubo is a visual coup de grace. Created with ridiculously artistic stop-motion animation using real models in a world of CGI flourishes, every frame of the film contains elements of both hard reality and dream-like imagination that elevates but never distracts from what's truly important — the story. While really young kids might literally shit their pants in parts of it, Kubo and the Two Strings is must see, and will probably be the best animation of the year. And one of the best adventures.
Also opening, and the opposite of a myth for the betterment of children everywhere, War Dogs is a based-on-true story starring Jonah Hill (Strange Wilderness, Moneyball) and Miles Teller (Whiplash, Footloose, Project X) as two severely unqualified "bros" who con the U.S. government into a $300-million Iraq war contract to "do business with the people the government can't do business with."
Essentially they're fish-out-of-water arms dealers getting by on luck, ignorance, wisecracks and good ole American balls. Directed by Todd Phillips (Old School, The Hangover movies), this one will have solid, adult laughs but my fear is, despite decent actors onboard, the characters will be too douchey to cheer for and too dorky to truly hate.
Also opening: a remake of Ben-Hur. There were no previews (and I have never seen the original) but from the trailer it looks like another swords-and-sandal drama still trying to milk the coattails of The Lord of the Rings and 300. Chances are this one only exists for the spectacle of CGI carnage and battle porn.
See also: 2014's double remakes Hercules and The Legend of Hercules, The Conan remake, the Clash of the Titans remake, Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Eagle, etc, etc...
Isn't it weird how some of our oldest, most classic myths are becoming some of our shittiest movies? That's what happens when Hollywood forgets about the imagination part.