Guitar Hero: Kubo and the Two Strings

I know, I know — this is a book blog!!!! Sometimes, however, you just gotta watch a movie. What follows is my review of the movie Kubo and the Two Strings. I’ve struggled with other Laika films (particularly The Boxtrolls) because their casting is often disturbingly non-diverse (ALWAYS AND FOREVER LOOKING AT YOU, BOXTROLLS), and while this movie was still problematic in terms of casting, the storytelling is superb.

 Kubo and the Two Strings. Directed by Travis Knight. 101 minutes. Laika Entertainment. 2016, $17.96 (DVD). ASIN: B01KMKM5NW

TL;DR: Do I recommend this movie? YES

Genre: Fantasy (Animated Movie)

Part of a series? No.

Plot Summary:

Kubo and his mother live in a cave above their village. His mother is fading as her mind drifts away, and Kubo, one-eyed from infancy after his grandfather stole an eye from him, must provide for himself and for his mother. Kubo goes down to the village each day to play his magical string instrument and make origami figures dance and act out his tales, but as soon as the bell before sunset tolls, he packs up and heads straight home. As his mother warns him, he can never let The Moon King (his grandfather) or his mother’s sisters find him, so he must always be home before dark. During the festival, he ignores this rule, desperate for contact from his deceased father. As soon as the moon shines on Kubo, his aunts appear and destroy the village in an attempt to capture Kubo. Kubo must grab only what he has on his back and run.

Critical Evaluation/Viewer’s Comments:

Unfortunately, Laika still struggles with casting nonwhite actors in main roles (Kubo, Monkey, the Moon King, and the Beetle are all voiced by white actors despite being designed as Japanese characters). That said, there are still many more voices from actors of color voicing other Japanese characters in the film, so while I am disappointed by their casting choices yet again (looking at you, The Boxtrolls), at least they have improved slightly.

The storytelling, however, makes me still appreciate the movie despite the casting issues. I will continue to acknowledge the casting situation as I look at Laika films, but Kubo really delivers on storyline. Kubo’s music and magical abilities are delightful to behold, and the animation of the origami figures coming to life and floating through the air is truly stunning. Some twists are guessable from early on, but ultimately, it was still a fabulously animated film.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This film is more intense in content than I was anticipating, so I would not bust out this movie for younger tweens. Instead, I would perhaps only use this movie with eleven-to-thirteen year olds (and up into teens) given the peril that characters are constantly in. Without spoiling too many elements of the film, people do die and are frequently in frightening situations. The main conflict of the film is that Kubo’s grandfather — who has already stolen one eye from him — is desperate to pluck the other one so that Kubo may be blind to humanity and finally be perfect, fit to sit alongside the Moon King in his otherworldly palace.

This would be great movie for a tween group that is interested in storytelling; ultimately, Kubo knows his “story” (i.e., Hanzo the samurai warrior versus the Moon King), but he doesn’t know how that story ends. Play this movie, talk about stories and the craft of storytelling, and fold origami! We could also look into bringing in a storytelling expert and have a storytelling workshop after we watch Kubo. San Francisco Public Library offered some storytelling classes this summer, so this could be doable if we found good storytelling instructors. (Ideas from myself)

Grade Level: 4+ (Common Sense Media approves this one for kids ages 9 and older)



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A Conceivable Classic: The Princess Bride (the film!)

The Princess Bride. Directed by Rob Reiner. 98 minutes. Act III Communications/Buttercup Films Ltd., The Princess Bride Ltd. 1987, $39.95 (DVD). ASIN: B00PGTNA52

A boy is sick in bed when his grandfather comes to visit. Rather than being given free reign to play video games, the kid is made to listen to his grandpa tell a story, one that his grandfather had told to the boy’s dad when he was sick growing up. The story? It’s about a girl named Buttercup, Westley (her former farm boy), a king, a giant, a sword master bent on revenge, and a conniving kidnapper. Death, miracles, swordfights, and drama ensue. Will true love win the day? (And will this book be better than a regular sports book, even though it has kissing in it?)

I watched most of this movie when I was in high school, and I have read the book, but I had not seen the film all the way through. Common Sense Media lists this as a “Laugh Out Loud” “Essential Movie” for tweens (ages 8+). Despite references to breasts, jokes that might go over kids’ heads but adults will notice, bloody wounds, and violence, I would have to agree. The slapstick and pratfalls are hilarious, the drama is real, and the tension sustains itself over the course of the movie. As each issue appears to be wrapped up, a new twist sets the story off on another dramatic course. Interruptions from the boy hearing the story heighten some drama, as his reactions (i.e., nervousness when the shrieking eels close in on Buttercup) reflect what we viewers feel.

Tween reviewers echo that the film can be scary. One Common Sense Media kid reviewer (10 years old) wrote a review titled “Way too scary” in which they talk about the violence in the movie and the fact that “This movie gave me nightmares for a while after I saw it” (2015). The same reviewer said it was a good movie, but they advise parents to know their kids’ “scary” thresholds before turning on the movie. Other reviewers posted about enjoying the adventure, the romance, and the humor.


Programming Idea: This would be a great movie activity for older students. The library could potentially hold a Princess Bride club reading. The movie viewing would be the final activity for the club’s focus on the book, followed by a discussion of what the film kept and what the film cut from the book. The book involves many more story elements (as often happens when books are made into movies), and it would be fun to talk about the ways that the “interruption” style is used in each medium. (Idea from myself).


Reviews read:

Common Sense Media. (n. d.). All teen and kid member reviews for The Princess Bride.    Common Sense Media. Retrieved from

Common Sense Media. (n. d.). Essential Movies: Laugh Out Loud. Common Sense            Media. Retrieved from

Common Sense Media Editors. (n. d.). The Princess Bride (Review of the movie The         Princess Bride). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from   

Kid, 10 years old. (2015, May 16). Way too scary. Common Sense Media. Retrieved from     reviews/child