The Hero’s Journey. Spirit guides. Magical energy. Astrological influence. Sacred relics. Secrets of the deep. Sorcerers, witches, and ghosts. These motifs and archetypes can be found in the stories of vastly different cultures, literatures, and films, yet rarely are so many pulled together with such seamless balance as in Travis Knight’s Kubo and the Two Strings.
This is a story created by a trio that understands the workings of mythology. Marc Haimes, Chris Butler, and Shannon Tindle recognize they are telling an age-old story in archetypes, in symbols; in their recognition, they are able to implement these recurring, familiar images with intention, play them against one another, and use them to tell a tale of limitless magic that takes place in a realm where dreams, songs, stories, and imagination are not separate from reality. Rather, they create our realities.
Kubo is our hero, a young boy who lives on a mountaintop with his ailing mother. He’s a master storyteller, able to take the stories his mother enthusiastically imparted unto him in his youth and transform them into entertaining spectacles, aided by the use of his magical, shapeshifting paper. But Kubo does not tell stories for mere entertainment. Like humans have done for millennia, Kubo tells stories to search for the truth of his being. And it is the stories that end up aiding him on his noble quest, the age-old quest we all walk, the quest for self-discovery.
It’s long been said there exists a “magic” particular to films. Lately, that magic has become a marketing tool, with studios marketing as magical big-budget, explosion-ridden recycled-storylines, premised on the mere fact that these films are projected on a massive screen in a dark room. For ye ensuing doubters of true filmic magic, I urge you to see this film. Kubo and the Two Strings is magical not simply because it takes place in a magical world limitless as its beautifully colorful and dynamic animation; it is magical because it reminds us that our world is magical, our real world outside the theater’s dark room. It invites us to keep our eyes open, to refrain from blinking, that we may focus on what spiritual realities exist forgotten, realities we may unlock in our reverent appreciation for the stories of our past, our collective memory.
Indeed, it is memory that the film describes as “the greatest magic of all.” It’s no wonder that the worst curses afflicted on the film’s characters are spells that debilitate their memory; without our memory, we cannot intuit that those who have passed before us still have life and energy, and we honor that life and energy through the stories we pass down through eons and eons.
Yet even when our memory is lost, we have those around us to remind us, to fill in the gaps of the story of our lives, that our world may become fully magical again. So long as we continue to tell our stories, there can be no true loss of memory. Kubo and the Two Strings reminds us that while we inherit personal histories that influence our journeys, so we aid one another in understanding each other’s stories. We uplift one another love, affirming what unique gifts each of us offers each moment. In so doing, we bring each other closer to self-realization, to living out our story to its conclusion. But the film shows that endings are merely new beginnings, points of transition from one form into another, as this invisible cosmological energy that animates humanity’s stories continues to unfold from person to person, culture to culture, time and time again.