Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) – United States rated PG
Summary: A young boy named Kubo must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past. He gains help along the way before facing a very personal fear – his family.
Recommendation: The music, storytelling, vivid color and movement are all very enticing, but the settling of the mystery at the end is most satisfying. Kubo is getting along as best he can with little help from his mom (whom he provides for). As the magic picks up around him, more fascinating origami transformations occur. This aspect of the animation is beyond beautiful. Watch the extras for how the animation was made – just seeing the scope and size of the sets is impressive. I also loved the interviews with various Japanese actors regarding how this story and movie were informed by authentic Japanese history and culture. The discussion about textiles and the stitching used on the character costumes was amazing.
Isle of Dogs (2018) – United States, Japan, and Germany rated PG
Summary: In a near-future dystopian Japan where all dogs are banished to a trash island after a flu outbreak, twelve-year-old Atari sets out for the island to find his lost dog Spots.
Recommendation: A great example of student activism at work! There’s more than one conspiracy revealed along this adventure. Every speaking dog has a distinct personality and motives. The whole ‘the characters speak their native language while dogs speak in English’ concept is a mite confusing, but you can make out what’s being communicated through the reactions of other characters. For more mature viewers, all the little blurbs and side notes are important if you can catch them. Sometimes they offer further clarification or explain the setting. I do wish I could read Japanese kanji fluently and see this again – what more would I learn?
This Magnificent Cake! (2019) Belgium, France, Netherlands rated PG-13
Summary: In the late nineteenth century King Leopold II of Belgium proclaimed, ‘I do not want to miss a good chance of getting us a slice of this magnificent African cake.’ The subsequent occupation of the Congo would come to attract a contingent of servants, merchants, and miscellaneous bourgeois driven by everything from insatiable greed to existential fear. From the intimate stories of these characters, many of whom pass through a luxury hotel in the middle of the jungle, emerges a greater narrative.
Recommendation: This film is only 45 minutes long, but it (barely) addresses some complicated political maneuverings. The colonization of the Congo brings many different characters into view during this story, each one getting a spotlight moment of their own. Of course, not all the stories are very happy. The absurdity and fictional violence (everything is portrayed in felt stop-motion, even the blood) makes you laugh out loud from surprise more than the subject matter being terribly funny. A most unusual selection that needs to either be a) ignored for the subject matter and simply enjoyed for the art, or b) studied up for as far as real history and how people lived and were actually treated by each other in that time.