Laika’s latest movie sports awesome animation, a well told story and excellent characters, yet when I left the movie I was somewhat unsatisfied, but still couldn’t pin down why. After some thinking I’ve come to the conclusion that it falters in the final part, which is well done on its own but clashes with the rest of the movie. If you tell your story following certain narrative paths, you raise expectations built on those foundations. If you then abandon that structure at the last moment to deliver a specific message, but don’t quite manage to make it feel like the ending follows organically from what came before, you lose the audience. This is what happened with Kubo.
It’s not about the need to always have a happy ending, but if you want to deliver a message about the immortality of memories, and need a true tragic event to really make it stick, don’t attach it to a movie that is for almost three quarters a highly enjoyable but mostly lightweight action/adventure buddy-comedy (with three buddies).
Also at the end I felt a bit like Rorschach at the end of Watchmen. Yes, what Kubo and the villagers told the grandfather was well intentioned, but still a lie and for me, this makes it a hollow victory. This is not how you solve conflicts or go forward. Poisoned well and all that. Made me really uncomfortable.