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Posted August 16, 2016 by Tim Wells in Movies

3 things you didn’t know about Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings is an epic animated adventure movie that hits theaters on August 19th, 2016. Critics are already praising it as one of the most original do-not-miss films of the year.

Here’s the official synopsis:

An epic action-adventure from acclaimed animation studio LAIKA. Clever, kindhearted Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson of “Game of Thrones”) ekes out a humble living, telling stories to the people of his seaside town including Hosato (George Takei), Hashi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), and Kameyo (Academy Award nominee Brenda Vaccaro). But his relatively quiet existence is shattered when he accidentally summons a spirit from his past which storms down from the heavens to enforce an age-old vendetta. Now on the run, Kubo joins forces with Monkey (Academy Award winner Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Academy Award winner 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 (Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes) and the evil twin Sisters (Academy Award nominee Rooney Mara), to unlock the secret of his legacy, reunite his family, and fulfill his heroic destiny.

Director Travis Knight

I recently had the honor of being part of a group interview with the director of Kubo, Travis Knight. Travis also worked on the animated films, Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls. Travis sat down to talk to us about his journey with Kubo and the Two Strings. Here’s a few things I learned about both Travis and Kubo.
Kubo and the Two Strings

Travis decided to make Kubo because of his love of epic fantasy and Japanese culture

Q: How did you come across the story of Kubo and why did you want to develop it into a feature film?

A: We’ve been working on Kubo for five years now. The original idea sprang from the fertile mind of our brilliant character designer, Shannon Tindle. Shannon was a guy that I’d worked with, years ago, on Coraline. He was one of our key character designers on the film. We kept in touch over the years, and it was over five years ago that he gave me a call and said that he had a handful of ideas that he wanted to pitch to us. I jumped at the chance. I met with him and we had a dinner in a dimly-lit Scottish restaurant. Over a dinner of Yorkshire pudding and shepherd’s pie, he pitched me the bones of some of these ideas.

When I was a kid, I was an enormous, obsessive fan of epic fantasy. I devoured everything from C.S. Lewis, L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, and tons of Norse mythology. But above all else, I loved J.R.R. Tolkien. I think that’s something in my genetic code, because when my mom was pregnant with me, and when she was recovering in the hospital after I was born, she was reading The Lord of the Rings. So, from the moment I took my first breath, this has been kind of the atmosphere around me. It was really one of the first great gifts that my mother bestowed upon me; a love of fantasy.

My dad, for his part, gave me a very different gift, but one that’s just as important. I grew up in Portland, Oregon, and when I was about eight years old, my dad allowed me to tag along on one of his business trips to Japan. From the moment I stepped foot in Japan, it was like I’d been transported to another world. It was just so beautiful, and so breathtaking, and almost otherworldly. It was really unlike anything I had ever experienced; everything from the art and the architecture to the music and the food, the style of dress, and the movies, TV shows, and comic books. Absolutely everything about it was a revelation and I was completely enthralled by it. I came back home with a backpack full of art and manga comic books, and I was changed by the experience. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair I’ve had with this great, beautiful culture.

This film is really the convergence of those two things. It’s the love of epic fantasy, that was a gift from my mother, and a love for the transcendent art of Japan, that I got from my father, all bound together with a movie about sustaining love of family, about what family means. It’s about family, inspired by family, and that really resonated with me. That’s why I dove in and decided to make this movie.
Kubo and the Two Strings

Monkey holds a special place in the director’s heart

Q: The characters in Kubo and the Two Strings are wonderful. Do you have a favorite?

A: I love them all. Even the baddies.

When you’re developing these stories, you learn as an artist and as a director that you’ve got to approach these characters without judgment. Even though some of them make horrible decisions and really, objectively, are horrible creatures, you’re got to try to find out what’s driving them. Usually, the way you figure that out is to say, “OK, where does their pain come from? What is driving them to make these decisions?” So you really start to try to understand them; even our villains.

Every single main character in this movie has suffered some kind of a loss and they respond to it in different ways. I think that is one of the things we explore, what loss and grief can do to us as people, how they can change us and what’s the best way to try to handle these things; what should we aspire to do? Ultimately, that’s the path that Kubo takes, but his grandfather takes a different path, his aunts take a different path.

I really do love every character in this movie for a lot of different reasons. As I said before, Kubo is kind of a feudal Japanese version of me. On another level, one of my favorite characters we’ve ever done at the studio is Monkey. It’s interesting, in folklore tradition, typically a character’s guide or mentor is a man, and we purposely made Monkey a woman. I love her quality. She’s a maternal figure, there’s a lot of my mom in that character, there’s a lot of my wife in that character, I see a lot of my daughter in that character. I think that she’s just a lovely, interesting, layered, rich, powerful creature. I think she’s animated beautifully. I love the design, and I think she’s brought to life extraordinarily by just a beautiful performance. I would have to say she’s my favorite character in the film, and definitely one of my favorite characters of any we’ve ever developed because of all those things.
Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo’s adventures will continue in imagination, not the screen

Q: Do you feel that Kubo’s story is complete? Will we see a sequel or prequel?

A: It’s complete within the range of the story we’re telling. He is a boy that had a life before this film began, he’s a young man who will have a life after this narrative ends, but this story that we’re telling here, this experience in his life, is done.

When we develop these characters and these worlds, we create entire backstories that never even make it onto the screen. We imagine what their lives are beyond the scope of the movie. Kubo lives on in my imagination, but he will not live on in another movie, because the way that we approach films at LAIKA, is that we’re always interested in telling new and original stories. We really don’t want to repeat ourselves. We have something of an inherent creative restlessness at the studio, where we’re always trying to challenge ourselves to do new and interesting things, and to tell new and interesting stories. I have absolutely no interest in revisiting something that we’ve already done.

The way we approach every movie, for our hero in the movie, we treat the film as an exploration of the most meaningful experience of our protagonist’s life. If you look at things through that prism, then what is your sequel? Is it the second most meaningful experience of your protagonist’s life? Or do you go the other way? Is it just bombast and sensory overload, and everything just gets cranked up to eleven, and then you’re just throwing everything at the audience. People can take that route as well, but I’m just not interested in that.

I think, for this film, we explore this journey that [Kubo] goes through. At the beginning of the movie, him, his grandfather, so many of these characters in this movie, they’re effectively an open wound. They have this wound that won’t heal, this loss and this grief of something that happened in their life that they’ve never been quite able to get over. By the time we get to the end of this film, Kubo, at the very least, has been made whole from this experience, and we know that this boy, as mature as he’s grown, he’s learned something along the way, and he is going to be OK. He’s going to have a good life. That, to me, is really the story that matters in this context. Anything beyond that, I certainly have other adventures of Kubo that happen in my head. I can imagine the life he’ll have, but that’s the only place those things will live, and in other people who experience these stories, because no, we’re not making a sequel.

Thank you to Travis for taking the time to speak with us. Your entire family can experience Kubo and the Two Strings on August 19th. We’re also giving away Kubo prize packs to two lucky winners! You can enter the giveaway here.

Tim Wells

Dad, husband, gamer, blogger, geek. Not necessarily in that order.