Kubo and the Two Strings opens in theaters August 19th
I am so excited to be preparing for the opening of Kubo and the Two Strings AND I am finally able to share with you some of the fun that we had while in Los Angeles for the Press Junket in July!
If you are a fan of the blog then hopefully by now you know that I LOVE going to the movies, meeting new characters, being introduced to a new story, and POPCORN! Okay, so the popcorn is just a bonus but you know what I mean. Since becoming a mommy, my movie taste hasn’t changed necessarily but it sure has taken on a more PG look and kid movies tend to be the films that we most frequent. We’ve seen a number of movies over the summer … some were great, some were decent, and some I really didn’t enjoy. I can’t tell you a lot about the movie itself but I can say that I can’t wait for you to see it, I am thrilled to be a part of the press team promoting the film, and I will be taking my family to see it. Get the picture? Go see Kubo and the Two Strings on August 19th!
BUT that isn’t the point of our share today. While in Los Angeles I had the opportunity to attend a press conference featuring talent from the film as well as the Director, Travis Knight … who just happens to be the CEO of LAIKA as well. Here are some of the highlights from the interview!
How He Identifies with Kubo and the Theme
We’ve been working on this for a long time; it’s been five years. You being with this idea and then over time you figure out who the characters are, what the world is, what the big issues you are trying to explore area, and what kind of personal things you can weave into the narrative to give it meaning and resonance. It was pretty late in the process, when I finally figured out that Kubo is basically a version of me. He’s an artist, he’s a storyteller, he’s a musician, he’s an animator, really, when you think about it. And his mirror, his journey, pretty much mirrors my own. He’s basically a lonely kid and that was really my experience growing up.
I grew up on a, the side of a mountain that was 15 miles away from the closest town, which was itself just a little country-fried place. And I spent a lot of time alone. I made friends slowly when I made them at all. I spent a lot of time exploring the woods near my house and climbing trees and jumping over creek beds and things like that. I spent a lot of time creating and drawing and making music and writing stories and when I wasn’t doing that my whole life revolved around my mom. She was my closest friend in the world. It was really the most meaningful connection of my young life and this film explores that moment and for a variety of reasons, it changes for some reason or another.
But for a variety of reasons, this film explores that moment in our lives when those things begin to shift and then irrevocably change; when we learn that profound, melancholic truth that to love is to hurt and those things go hand-in-hand. Love is an amazing thing because it opens us up and it makes us vulnerable. But at the same time, it heals us and it gives us strength and it makes our life worth living. That’s one of the core themes that are at the heart of this movie and every scene, to varying degrees, has elements of that at play.
Addressing Tough Subjects in a Kids Movie
It’s a tricky thing, finding that perfect balance. It can be elusive. I think back to the things that I loved when I was a kid and the things that stuck with me; the things that took up residence in my head and stuck to my ribs. They were always those stories that had that artful balance of darkness and light, of intensity and warmth that took us on a journey in a really dynamic way and didn’t sugarcoat things, but talked about things sensitively and hopefully in a poetic way that even kids could understand. We make films for families, so we don’t speak down to our audience. We really want to respect their intelligence. We talk about fairly sophisticated issues that mean something to us when we were kids and now as parents with that other generational perspective, looking the other way, we’re grownup kids who now have kids of their own.
I think back to the things that I loved, in fact, LAIKA only exists because of my kids. I’ve been an animator for 20 years and when I had kids it changed everything for me. My entire outlook on the world completely changed. It shifted around, I think like most of us do and you start seeing things in a different way and as someone who’s involved in film and in television and in commercials, I didn’t want to devote my life to making stuff that was damaging to my kids. I didn’t want to make stuff that was part of a big, vapid, sensory assault, which is so much of the stuff that’s geared towards children.
I wanted to make art that was meaningful, that had resonance, had an uncynical view of the world, and offered a hopeful view of the world. That was really the impetus for LAIKA to begin with. It wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my kids and this film definitely wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my kids because the whole thing explores the relationships that we have with our parents and then from the other way, with our children. I think it can be a challenge because you certainly don’t want to traumatize children and I know based on things that I’ve heard, in the past we’ve made films that have led to a handful of soaked bunkbed mattresses.
So maybe sometimes we push it a little too far. But the dividing line for me is a little strange because when I was five years old I saw The Exorcist, my compass is probably off. But you run things by your kids and it’s what we always do. It’s like, how would they respond? Does this mean something to us? The only thing in the end, the only thing we can go by, we don’t use focus groups. We don’t have a screening where we get kind of test scores and say, okay, now we’re going to recalibrate in this way. We have to make films that are pure, that we believe in, that mean something to us and that means something to our family. We’re always reevaluating, we’re showing things to our kids, seeing how they respond and that ends up kind of changing how these films evolve.
In the end, I don’t know, I think it really is up to every parent to decide what’s right for their kid, but we try to make films that are meaningful for the whole family and when I think of the best cinematic experience I have as a father it is when I go see a movie with my kids and on the drive home we’re talking about what we just saw and some of the ideas that were raised. I love those opportunities to engage with my kids and sometimes if you can tell a story that has issues that we’re exploring, those are opportunities for families to engage with each other and I love that.
How Animated Film Inspires Him
I’ve loved animation for my entire life. I think this film is really kind of a combination of all these things that I’ve loved deeply since I was a kid. I was drawn to stop motion from a very young age. I really kind of deeply fell in love with it, the Ray Harryhausen Creature Features, the Rankin and Bass Christmas specials; those things like that. There was something about that I really thought was interesting and beautiful and charming and I’ve tried to analyze in the years that have passed, what about that appealed to me? I think something clicked for me a while ago when I was watching my three-year-old son play with his toys and he was on the other side of the room and he had his little superhero dolls and he’s putting on these little voices and telling stories and it dawned on me.
This is really just kind of a fundamental aspect of what it means to be human, telling stories. Nobody taught my boy how to do that, but he’s telling a story, with imaginative play he’s bringing his beloved playthings to life. And in some way I think that stop motion is kind of evocative of that feeling. It’s almost like a child’s plaything being brought to life through imaginative play and I think maybe that’s something that stuck with me when I was a kid and it has, since all through my life. I’ve always loved that form of filmmaking. I’ve loved storytelling. At various points of my life I’ve been a musician and the act of creating and telling stories and trying to engage people, I think the best form of art is that thing that engages us, that kind of gets us to think about things in a new way or gets us to reflect on our own experiences and I love that side of it.
I think the best form of art brings us together. It can cross time and space and culture and connect with people and speak to us in a way that maybe we didn’t even know was there. The first time that I cried in the movie theater was when I saw E.T. and I remember sitting there, I was about eight years old, and I was sitting there and I was bawling. I had my head in my mom’s shoulder and on the one hand I knew what I was seeing was not real. I knew that it was fake. I knew that someone had a camera and people were playacting and all that sort of thing. But on the other hand, it spoke to me in a way that was more real than real. It kind of tapped into something that I didn’t even know that I felt because it’s this kind of portrait of loneliness and this kid who makes this incredible connection but then loses it. And that was things that I didn’t even recognize that I felt and when I saw it on screen it reflected a part of who I am.
The opportunity for us to tell stories like that, it’s an extraordinary privilege. We take it very seriously, the opportunity to tell stories, to connect people, to kindle people’s imaginations, to inspire people to dream. That’s what movies meant for me when I was a kid and those are the kind of things that we want to make now and those are the things that drive me, to this point and will moving forward.
George Harrison’s Role in the Film
As with so much in this movie, there’s a family connection there. I grew up in a Beatles’ household. My mom was 15 years old when the Beatles were on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time and of course, she was an enormous Beatles’ fan and that’s another gift that my mother bestowed to me. We listened to the Beatles’ record on my mom’s hi-fi, on an 8-track in my dad’s blue Cougar coupe. Beatles were just kind of part of our life. It was essentially the soundtrack of my life and one song that my mother and I loved more than anything really was While My Guitar Gently Weeps. When we were thinking about this movie and tried to come up with some kind of a musical accompaniment that was evocative of the ideas and the themes that were running through the movie, my mind kept going to that song because it really is a timeless expression of love and empathy, which is fundamentally what this movie’s about.
The way we played it, I always heard it in my head as a female voice singing it because to me it essentially kind of the last words that a mother gives to her son. And the way we constructed it, it felt like an extension of the movie. We have all the same instrumentation. It was arranged by our extraordinary composer, Dario Marianelli, who threaded different themes from the movie into it as well. It was sung beautifully by Regina Spector, who is also an enormous Beatles’ fan and has a three-year-old son of her own, so this movie spoke to her in that way as well. And then the way we construct the song, it’s effectively a mother singing to her son and saying carry on my story.
At the very end, the coda at the end of the song, we have a boys’ choir that comes in, as if it’s Kubo carrying on his mother’s song. He’s going to continue to tell her story. To me, it was the perfect way to end the movie. It was the perfect encapsulation of all the things that we explore and it’s just a beautiful song. You would never know that it was written in 1965 or whatever it happens to be; it’s 50 years old and it’s as timeless as ever.
Now that you know a little more about the story behind the story, hopefully you are more excited about the film’s release. It’s a wonderful film … filled with magic, life lessons, and love.
Keep an eye on the blog as next week we will be sharing more about our time at the Kubo and the Two Strings Press Junket, interviewing Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, and Art Parkinson, AND our review of the film. In the meantime, follow #KuboMovie for the latest details from LAIKA, Focus Features, and bloggers around the blogosphere on social media!
KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS OPENS NATIONWIDE AUGUST 19, 2016
Kubo and the Two Strings is an epic action-adventure set in a fantastical Japan 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), Akihiro (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
Writers: Marc Haimes and Chris Butler (“ParaNorman”)
Voice Cast: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro, and Matthew McConaughey
CONNECT ON SOCIAL MEDIA
I was sent on an all-expenses paid trip to Los Angeles for the Kubo and the Two Strings Press Junket. Regardless, all opinions expressed are my own.