Last weekend, I brought my daughter to the movies. We saw Kubo and the Two Strings. It was a mistake. That’s no reflection on the movie. I quite liked the movie (what I saw of it, anyway). It’s a reflection on my skills as a parent. My daughter is five. This isn’t a kids movie.
The experience wasn’t all bad. I learned something. It turns out that I carry a magic internet machine around with me all the time and I can very easily look up movies to see whether they are appropriate for five year olds. Now I know that I should do that, even if a marketing campaign totally makes it look like the movie was made for kids. My daughter and I first became aware of Kubo when we saw The Secret Life of Pets. There was a trailer. I figured the trailers before a kids movie would be for other kids movies. That was my first mistake. My second mistake was believing the television ads. All I saw was a giant beetle trying, unsuccessfully, to right himself after falling on his back. I really thought it was a comedy. My third mistake was trusting the toys. One toy was a small shamisen that makes a plinking noise when you press a button. Another was a wind up boat that came with stickers. Again, I figured that the toys are clearly aimed at four to five year olds, so the movie must be, too.
(Even though I don’t believe in spoilers, I’ll warn anyone reading that there are spoilers ahead. I don’t want anyone getting mad at me.)
So, here’s what happened. My daughter said she wanted to see the “Kuko” movie. I understood by that that she wanted to see Kubo. We had no plans, so I said, “Sure.” We were running a little late, but we got to the theater, got our tickets, got our food and went to find seats. We sat down just as the final trailer was ending, so it was basically perfect timing.
The movie started with a young woman fleeing some unknown danger with a baby. She collapses from exhaustion, but when the baby makes noise, she struggles to check on him. When she moves the baby’s blanket, we see he has a bandage over his eye. I was a bit nervous with this opening, but not terribly concerned. It wasn’t much worse than Frozen and it was outright tame compared to the Lion King.
After the opening came a scene where Kubo is taking care of his mother. It’s a little sad, no kid should be in that position, but not terrible. Then, Kubo goes to town and tells a story. This seems to be how he makes his living. And it turns out he is great at telling stories. He plays his shamisen and uses magic. It was a lot of fun and my daughter loved it. But, Kubo had to leave before the story was over. He had promised his mother he would be home before dark.
The next day, Kubo goes back to town for more storytelling. He is told that there’s a special lantern ceremony that night. He knows he is supposed to be home before dark, but he really wants to stay for the festival. Being a kid, his curiosity wins out. This is where our pleasant movie going experience shifted. First, Kubo is trying, and failing, to communicate with his dead father. Then, his mother shows up to bring him home and he is attacked by two magical sisters. They are really scary. At this point, my daughter climbed into my lap and I was hit with a barrage of, “Why are they trying to hurt Kuko? Is he going to be OK?” and on and on. I tried to keep her quiet. We weren’t alone in the theater. So, I missed a bit of what was happening here. All I know is that my daughter was upset. Then, Kubo’s mom is killed as she uses the last of her strength to cast a spell to save her son.
At this point, I carried my daughter out of the theater. She was terrified, but she didn’t want to leave. I told her, “It’s just for a second.”
When we got to the lobby, I put her down and apologized. I told her the movie was much different than I had expected. She responded with, “Has it been a second?”
“What?” I asked.
“You said we were only coming out for a second.”
“Are you sure you want to go back in? This isn’t what I was expecting. We can leave.”
“But I want to see how it ends.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“I wanna see the end.”
“There are other people in there. If we go back in, you can sit on my lap, but you need to be quiet.”
“You’re really sure you want to go back in?”
This is the parenting version of the Kobayashi Maru. Do I bring her back in, knowing that the movie is too scary for her, or take her home, knowing that she’ll be bent out of shape for the rest of the weekend? I reluctantly decided we would go back in.
My daughter spent the rest of the movie on my lap. She would watch, then cover her eyes, then look at me, then watch again. I spent most of the rest of the time whispering to her that it’s only a movie and Kubo would be fine.
The second and third thirds of the movie are kind of a blur for me. I was paying far more attention to my daughter than the movie. But, basically it did have a happy ending, although a very grown up happy ending. My daughter certainly doesn’t see what’s so happy about both of Kubo’s parents’ spirits being freed (they both die). Nor does she understand why having Kubo’s grandfather losing his memory and being lied to about his past is a good thing. Now I just want to go see the movie by myself so I can enjoy it. I’m pretty sure it’s a really good movie.
We spent the ride home talking about the movie. She had lots of questions. I answered them the best I could. Then she decided that it was a big kid movie. And she’s not a big kid yet. She has two cousins, one is 5 years older and the other is a year and a half older. She decided that it would be good for her 10 year old cousin, but even her almost 7 year old cousin might be too young for it. I told her that even her 10 year old cousin would have been terrified (He really would have been.). For some reason, that made her feel much better.
So, it all worked out OK. She hasn’t had any nightmares and I think it makes her feel a bit grown up knowing that she saw a movie that even her older cousins are too young to see. I just hope that Moana is both good and really kid friendly.