As an animation, some may find it hard to take Kubo and the Two Strings seriously, but beneath its occasionally lighthearted exterior, there are so many takeaways for those who truly paid attention along the way. As I watched the movie though, I was filled with a sense of unease, and toward the end, I actually felt like the events in the movie could be seen in a completely different light — a more realistic, darker light that chimes more with the real world.
Were The Events In The Movie Merely Symbolic?
From the beginning of the movie, viewers can observe Kubo's generally unhappy life with a mother who is non-functional in the daytime, and barely there mentally at night. He escapes from this temporarily to perform at the nearby town. While the dazzling displays of magic in the movie (especially in the scene where he performs at the town square) are wonderful to look at, at the very end I wondered, "What if all that are the figments of a child's imagination? What if he just put on a regular origami show, but in his mind, elevated it to heights he could only dream of?" This eventually led me to believe that: None of the magical aspects portrayed in the movie ever happened. All of it were merely the imaginations of a sad, lonely child. There are a couple of things in the movie that I feel supports this, and I'll go over them one by one.
Reason 1: The Mom
As mentioned before, Kubo's mom was pretty much a vegetable in the daytime and only came alive for awhile after sunset before she went back to sleep again. Kubo mentions how she seems to be losing herself more and more as time goes by (sounds a lot like Alzheimer's to me). Due to this, he had to take care of her most of the time instead of the other way around. It was truly painful to watch a child go through this day after day, and more so thinking that this has probably been his life since he was a toddler or younger.
The mental state of the mother is highly questionable, and this made me think if her stories about Hanzo, or even her family, were true. They may be just stories to entertain a poor, fatherless child who has no other source of entertainment (though in his mind, Kubo may have accepted it as the truth). It's also a lot easier to tell a kid that an evil person gouged out his eye than say, losing it to an infection. The final showdown between the mom (in her human form) and her creepy-as-hell sister? I feel it was Kubo's way of imagining how death took away his mother after years of her suffering from her ailment.
Reason 2: The Familial Drama
The middle half of the movie was really entertaining once Beetle and the Monkey came into the picture. We soon find out that these were Kubo's parents — and at quite a late stage at that. My theory is that this middle part was just Kubo's way of dealing with his mother's loss and him eventually being passed on to a different guardian. He conjured up images of happy family times and parents jovially bickering in his mind to cope with the grief he was feeling about being totally alone, now without any parents instead of at least one. Perhaps in his moment of pain, he just wanted to feel normal and brave, like what he imagined other people must feel. Thus, the long quest and bonding period with his parents in his head, probably as he tinkered around with Mr. Monkey and watched beetles fly in and out of his cave-home.
Reason 3: The End Scene
In the climax of Kubo and the Two Strings, we watched Kubo fight his grandfather's monstrous form before there was a burst of light. The grandfather then turns into a frail, old man who seems to have forgotten everything. The townspeople come out from behind the tombstones and tell this old man all his good virtues. I know in the context of the movie it was apparently to change this man into a good person, but I looked at it another way. I felt the burst of light was the period when Kubo came out of his mental breakdown and finally accepts that he now has to live with his grandfather (whom he probably dislikes), and who probably has the same Alzheimer-like ailment his mother had. The townspeople were probably scared after Kubo appears to attack this frail, old man out of nowhere, and the old man has a memory loss moment right after the attack. Kubo then realizes that his mum is truly gone, but his life has to go on, and his imagination has to come to a stop. He then ends with the local custom so that he can let go of his grief — truly and finally.
So, of course this may just be my own overly dark imagination taking its toll, as I don't really believe in magic and magical creatures. If you think about it though, it's a totally plausible scenario of a child who was mistreated by an incapable mother, loses her, goes through a mental breakdown where he uses his imagination as a coping mechanism, and eventually comes to term with his life. It's a scenario we see all too often in real life, in real kids.
Watch the video below to meet Kubo and the Two Strings director Travis Knight and hear his thoughts about what went into creating this animated masterpiece:
Do you think this theory may be true, or is it just too twisted to be real? I want to hear from you, so tell me in the comments below!