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Kubo and the Two Strings is a 2016 American stop-motion action fantasy film directed and produced by Travis Knight (in his directorial debut). It stars the voices of Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, and Matthew McConaughey. It is the fourth feature film produced by Laika. The film revolves around Kubo, a young boy who wields a magical shamisen (a Japanese stringed instrument) and whose left eye was stolen during infancy. Accompanied by an anthropomorphic snow monkey and beetle, he must subdue his mother's corrupted Sisters and his power-hungry grandfather Raiden (The Moon King), who is responsible for stealing his left eye.

Kubo and the Two Strings
Kubo and the Two Strings poster.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTravis Knight
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story by
Music byDario Marianelli
CinematographyFrank Passingham
Edited byChristopher Murrie
Distributed byFocus Features
Release date
  • August 13, 2016 (2016-08-13) (MIFF)
  • August 19, 2016 (2016-08-19) (United States)
Running time
102 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$60 million[2]
Box office$77.5 million[3]

Kubo premiered at Melbourne International Film Festival and was released by Focus Features in the United States on August 19 to critical acclaim and grossed $77 million worldwide against a budget of $60 million. The film won the BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film at the 70th British Academy Film Awards and at the 89th Academy Awards, the film was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Visual Effects, becoming the second animated film ever to be nominated in the latter category following 1993's The Nightmare Before Christmas, and the first film to be nominated for both.



In feudal Japan, 12-year-old Kubo tends to his mother Sariatu, earning their living by magically manipulating origami with music from his shamisen for the nearby villagers. He tells the tale of his deceased father Hanzo, a samurai warrior, but is never able to finish his story as he does not know how Hanzo died, and his mother herself cannot recall as her mental state deteriorates. Sariatu warns Kubo not to stay out after dark as her sisters, Karasu and Washi, and his estranged grandfather the Moon King, who took Kubo's eye when he was a baby, will find him and take his remaining eye.

At the village's Bon Festival, where the townsfolk can speak to deceased loved ones, Kubo is angry when Hanzo does not appear, and forgets to return home before sunset. Karasu and Washi attack him, but Sariatu fights them off by magically strumming the dropped shamisen. Using her magic to animate the stag beetle pattern on the back of Kubo's robe, it sprouts wings to fly him far away and tells him to find his father's armor. Kubo reaches desperately out to her, but only accidentally pulls a single strand of hair in his hand. He witnesses the three sisters activate their magic and charge at each other, releasing a blast of energy.

Kubo awakens in a distant blizzard to find Monkey, his wooden Japanese macaque charm, has come to life; she sounds oddly similar to Sariatu. Guiding him to shelter inside the corpse of a whale, Monkey tells Kubo that Sariatu is gone, used the last of her magic to save him and bring Monkey back to life, and the village has been destroyed. Seeing Sariatu's hair strand, she twists it into a simple braid and ties it around Kubo's wrist as a bracelet in her memory. With the help of "Little Hanzo", an origami figure based on Hanzo, they set out to find the armor, and meet Beetle, an amnesiac samurai cursed to take the form of a humanoid stag beetle who believes himself to have been Hanzo's apprentice. Proving himself to be a skilled archer, he quickly pledges his strength and bow to Kubo's quest.

Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle find the "Sword Unbreakable" in the Hall of Bones, and defeat a Gashadokuro to escape with the sword. Crossing the Long Lake in a leaf boat to locate the "Breastplate Impenetrable" deep underwater, Kubo and Beetle swim down and encounter a sea monster, the "Garden of Eyes", which entrances victims with its many eyes. Kubo is caught in the creature's sight, and realizes that Monkey is the reincarnated spirit of his mother. Beetle rescues Kubo and retrieves the Breastplate, and they return to the boat to find Monkey has been wounded fighting and killing Karasu.

Recovering on shore, Monkey explains that she and her sisters were ordered by the Moon King to kill Hanzo, but she instead fell in love with him, and the Moon King branded her an enemy. Monkey reveals that the Moon King wishes to make Kubo like him by taking away his humanity. That night, Kubo dreams of meeting Raiden, a blind elderly man who points him to the "Helmet Invulnerable" in Hanzo's abandoned fortress. They reach the fortress, realizing too late it is a trap set by the Moon King and Washi, who reveals that Beetle is Hanzo, whom she and Karasu cursed for taking Sariatu away from them. Beetle is killed and Monkey sacrifices herself to buy Kubo time to use his shamisen to defeat Washi, breaking two of his three strings. Little Hanzo provides insight that the Helmet is actually the village bell, and Kubo breaks his last string to transport himself there.

At the village, Kubo meets Raiden, who is revealed to be the Moon King. He offers to take Kubo's other eye to make him immortal, but Kubo refuses, and Raiden transforms into a giant Dunkleosteus-like dragon,[4] the Moon Beast, and pursues Kubo and the remaining villagers into the cemetery. When Hanzo's armor proves ineffective, Kubo removes it and restrings his shamisen using his mother's hair, his father's bowstring, and his own lock of hair. With the instrument, he summons the spirits of the villagers' loved ones, who show the Moon Beast that memories are the strongest magic of all and can never be destroyed.

Kubo and the spirits' magic strip the Moon Beast of his powers, leaving him a mortal human without any memories. Inspired by Kubo's stories, the villagers take compassion and tell Raiden he was a man of many positive traits, accepting him into the village. Kubo is able to speak to his parents' spirits during the subsequent Bon ceremony, as they watch the deceased villagers' lanterns transform into golden herons and fly to the spirit world.


  • Art Parkinson as Kubo, the main protagonist of the story.
  • Charlize Theron as Monkey/Sariatu, Kubo's mother and one of the Moon King's daughters, reincarnated in a little Japanese snow monkey charm, known as Monkey, after she is killed by her Sisters.
  • Matthew McConaughey as Beetle/Hanzo, Kubo's father, who was transformed by the Sisters into a beetle-like hybrid with no recollection of his true identity, believing himself to be Hanzo's apprentice.
  • Ralph Fiennes as Raiden/Moon King, Kubo's grandfather, the Sisters and Sariatu's father and the main antagonist of the story.
  • Rooney Mara as The Sisters (Karasu and Washi), Kubo's evil aunts, Sariatu's younger sisters, and the Moon King's twin daughters.
  • George Takei as Hosato, a villager who teaches his daughter their Japanese culture and traditions.
  • Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Hashi, a villager and Kubo's biggest fan.
  • Brenda Vaccaro as Kameyo, a villager and an elderly but young-hearted widow who is a grandmother-figure to Kubo.
  • Meyrick Murphy as Mari
  • Minae Noji as Minae
  • Alpha Takahashi as Aiko
  • Laura Miro as Miho
  • Ken Takemoto as Ken


Announced in December 2014, the project is the directoral debut of Laika's CEO Travis Knight.[5] Laika's production designer Shannon Tindle pitched the story to Knight as a "stop-motion samurai epic". Although the studio had never ventured into the genre before, Knight was enthusiastic about the project; owing partly his affinity towards both the "epic fantasy" genre as well as Japanese culture in general.[6]

The art took inspiration from such Japanese mediums as ink wash painting and origami among others. A particular influence came from the ukiyo-e wood block style, with Laika intending to make the entire film "to look and feel as if it's a moving woodblock print"[6] Assistance came from 3D printing firm Stratasys who allowed Laika to use their newest technologies in exchange for feedback on them.[6] Knight mentioned that the story for the film was partly inspired by works of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.

For the Skeleton monster the team created a giant 16-foot (4.9m), 400-pound (180 kg) puppet, which Laika claims is the record holder for largest stop-motion puppet.[7] The idea to make such a massive puppet was born out of a fear that individual smaller parts (meant to represent the larger monster) would not work well on screen interacting with the other puppets.[7] The resulting puppet was built in two parts which were then attached together by magnets. For movement Laika had to design a robot to easily manipulate it. The team at one point purchased an industrial robot from eBay but found that it would not work with their setup.[7]


Kubo and the Two Strings
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedAugust 5, 2016
GenreFilm score
LabelWarner Bros. Records
Laika film soundtrack chronology
The Boxtrolls
Kubo and the Two Strings
Dario Marianelli chronology
Kubo and the Two Strings

Dario Marianelli composed and conducted the score for the film.[8]

Track listingEdit

1."The Impossible Waves"2:37
2."Kubo Goes to Town"1:25
3."Story Time"2:10
5."Meet the Sisters!"2:22
6."Origami Birds"3:25
7."The Giant Skeleton"3:30
8."The Leafy Galleon"4:36
9."Above and Below"3:59
10."The Galleon Restored"1:06
11."Monkey's Story"2:57
12."Hanzo's Fortress"5:45
14."Showdown with Grandfather"7:04
16."While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (Regina Spektor)5:23


The film screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on August 13, 2016,[9] and was theatrically released in the United States on August 19, 2016.[10]

Box officeEdit

Kubo and the Two Strings grossed $48 million in North America and $29.5 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $77.5 million, against a budget of $60 million.[3]

In the United States, the film was released on August 19, 2016, alongside Ben-Hur and War Dogs, and was projected to gross $12–15 million from 3,260 theaters in its opening weekend.[11] It made $515,000 from its Thursday night previews and $4.1 million on its first day. It went on to gross $12.6 million in its opening weekend, finishing 4th at the box office.[12]

Critical responseEdit

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 97% based on reviews from 211 critics, with an average rating of 8.39/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Kubo and the Two Strings matches its incredible animation with an absorbing—and bravely melancholy—story that has something to offer audiences of all ages."[13] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 84 out of 100, based on 38 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[14] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported filmgoers gave it an 85% overall positive score and a 63% "definite recommend".[12]

Christy Lemire of awarded the film 3.5 stars out of 4, saying that "one of the most impressive elements of Kubo and the Two Strings—besides its dazzling stop-motion animation, its powerful performances and its transporting score—is the amount of credit it gives its audience, particularly its younger viewers."[15] IGN's Samantha Ladwig gave the film 7.5/10, stating that the film is "Dark, twisted, and occasionally scary, but also with humor, love, and inspiration."[16] Jesse Hassenger, of The A.V. Club, praised the film, saying that "no American animation studio is better-suited to dreamlike plotting than Laika, and the animation of Kubo is truly dazzling, mixing sophistication and handmade charm with inspired flow."[17]

Michael O'Sullivan of The Washington Post gave the film 4/4 stars, stating that the film is "both extraordinarily original and extraordinarily complex, even for a grown-up movie masquerading as a kiddie cartoon (which it kind of is)."[18] In The New York Times, Glenn Kenny said that "the movie's blend of stop-motion animation for the main action with computer-generated backgrounds is seamless, creating what is the most visually intoxicating of all Laika's movies."[19] Peter Debruge of Variety wrote that ""Kubo" offers another ominous mission for a lucky young misfit, this one a dark, yet thrilling adventure quest that stands as the crowning achievement in Laika's already impressive oeuvre."[20]

Jonathan Pile of Empire, wrote of the film: "Yet another success for stop-motion giants Laika … boasts big laughs and effective scares in a typically gorgeous animated tale."[21]

Casting criticismEdit

While the film received critical acclaim for its craft and story, it was criticized for its perceived whitewashing as a movie set in ancient Japan but featuring a centrally white cast. George Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa were the only actors of Asian descent playing the role of minor characters.[22][23]


At the 89th Academy Awards, Kubo and the Two Strings was nominated for two awards, Best Animated Feature and Best Visual Effects, but lost to two Disney films respectively: Zootopia and The Jungle Book.[24][25]

Home mediaEdit

Kubo and the Two Strings was released on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital media on November 22, 2016.[26]


  1. ^ "KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. August 19, 2016. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  2. ^ "Kubo and the Two Strings". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved December 22, 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)". The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved January 24, 2017.
  4. ^ @shannontindle (October 29, 2016). "Thanks!! I based its head on dunkleosteus, a prehistoric fish and was inspired to make it bioluminescent like deep sea fish" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  5. ^ Hammond, Pete (December 22, 2014). "Laika & Focus Begin Production On All-Star 'Kubo And The Two Strings' To Kick Off 3-Pic Deal". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved January 15, 2015.
  6. ^ a b c Lott-Lavinga, Ruby (September 9, 2016). "Kubo and the Two Strings: an epic film made on a 12-foot-long table". Wired. Condé Nast. Retrieved April 14, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c Fails, Ian (August 19, 2016). "Laika Was Crazy Enough To Animate A 16-Foot Tall Skeleton for 'Kubo and The Two Strings'". Cartoon Brew. Retrieved April 14, 2017.
  8. ^ filmmusicreporter (April 28, 2015). "Dario Marianelli to Score Laika's 'Kubo and the Two Strings'". Film Music Reporter. Retrieved October 24, 2015.
  9. ^ "KIDS GALA: KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS 3D". Program 2016. Melbourne International Film Festival. Archived from the original on July 13, 2016. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  10. ^ Reyes, Mike (January 28, 2016). "The Kubo And The Two Strings Trailer Is Epic And Magical". CinemaBlend. GatewayBlend Entertainment. Retrieved August 13, 2016.
  11. ^ Faughnder, Ryan (August 16, 2016). "'Ben-Hur' remake likely won't be able to topple 'Suicide Squad' at the box office". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 22, 2018.
  12. ^ a b D'Alessandro, Anthony (August 22, 2016). "War Dogs' Begins Barking On Thursday Night – Box Office". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  13. ^ "Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved May 23, 2019.
  14. ^ "Kubo and the Two Strings Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
  15. ^ Lemire, Christy (August 19, 2016). "Kubo and the Two Strings". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  16. ^ Ladwig, Samantha (August 12, 2016). "Kubo and the Two Strings Review". IGN. Ziff Davis. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  17. ^ Hassenger, Jesse (August 18, 2016). "Laika releases another, less ghoulish triumph with Kubo And The Two Strings". The A.V. Club. The Onion. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
  18. ^ O'Sullivan, Michael (August 18, 2016). "'Kubo and the Two Strings' weaves a magical tale that feels both ancient and fresh". The Washington Post. The Washington Post Company. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  19. ^ Kenny, Glenn (August 19, 2016). "Kubo and the Two Strings". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  20. ^ Debruge, Peter (August 12, 2016). "'Kubo and the Two Strings' Review: Puts the Emotion in Stop-Motion". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  21. ^ Pile, Jonathan (August 12, 2016). "Kubo And The Two Strings Review". Empire. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
  22. ^ Street, Mikelle (August 23, 2016). "The 'Kubo and the Two Strings' Controversy Proves Whitewashing Is More Complicated Than You Think". Complex. Complex Media. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  23. ^ Pedersen, Erik (August 24, 2016). "Watchdog Group Chides Laika For "White-Washing" 'Kubo And The Two Strings'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  24. ^ Nordyke, Kimberly (January 24, 2017). "Oscars: 'La La Land' Ties Record With 14 Nominations". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved March 30, 2018.[dead link]
  25. ^ Variety Staff (January 24, 2017). "Oscar Nominations: Complete List". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved March 30, 2018.
  26. ^ Liebman, Martin (November 16, 2016). "Kubo and the Two Strings Blu-ray". Retrieved August 22, 2018.

External linksEdit