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Will "Kubo" be the next "Iron Giant," a great animated film that has to be rediscovered before it can then be fully appreciated?

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Will "Kubo" be the next "Iron Giant," a great animated film that has to be rediscovered before it can then be fully appreciated?

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Let me get right to the point here: It kind of breaks my heart that "Kubo and the Two Strings" hasn't done better at the domestic box office.

Copyright Focus Features. All rights reserved

I mean, this stop motion movie is arguably the best thing that Laika has ever produced. And if you go over to Rotten Tomatoes, you'll see that - given the 96% freshness rating Focus Features' most recent release has gotten (Not to its audience score of 91%) - I'm not the only one who was thoroughly charmed by "Kubo" 's strong story, engaging characters and terrific art direction.

Sadly, great reviews and strong word-of-month hasn't translated into big box office for this particular animated feature. With "Kubo" just about to complete its third week in domestic release (And given that this Travis Knight film reportedly cost $60 million to make and that it's only sold an estimated $36.6 million worth of tickets during its North American run), it's looking like it could be quite a while before this project officially manages to turn a profit.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

It's worth noting here that - back in 1941 - you could have said the exact same thing about Disney's "Pinocchio" & "Fantasia." Both of those now-beloved animated features were released to theaters in 1940 and then under-performed spectacularly at the domestic box office. And in the case of "Fantasia," it would take over two decades & multiple re-releases before Walt's "Concert Feature" finally officially made it into the black.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is just because an audience-of-size doesn't come out to see a new animated feature during its initial domestic release doesn't then mean that that particular motion picture is bad. It just sometimes takes people a while to find a film / recognize quality when they see it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Case in point: "The Iron Giant." Just like with "Kubo and the Two Strings," this Brad Bird film was released during the dog days of Summer (on August 6, 1999, to be exact). And just like with Laika's latest, that Warner Brothers Feature Animation production wound up dying a dog's death domestically. I remember going to see "The Iron Giant" on its opening night in theaters. There were a total of four of us in that auditorium for this Friday-night-at-7:30-p.m. screening. Four.

Mind you, as soon as the end credits for "The Iron Giant" began to roll, all four of us came together in the center aisle of that huge, empty auditorium. And after we all finished blithering about how good this Warner Bros. release was, all four of us then asked the $64 question. Which was "Why are we the only ones here?"

Copyright Warner Home Video. All rights reserved

After the fact, much was made about the "Iron Giant" 's marketing campaign. How the trailers & the posters that the studio's PR department had put together for this Brad Bird film had done a particularly poor job of making would-be moviegoers aware of just what this amazing animated feature was about.

Of course, given that I've seen copies of that Summer-of-1999 poster for "The Iron Giant" proudly displayed in the offices of some of the most powerful people in Hollywood (More to the point, given that original-domestic-release posters for this Warner Brothers Feature Animation production still command big bucks on the secondary market), I'm not entirely sure that I actually buy into that "bad marketing campaign" theory. Sometimes it just takes a while for a film to actually connect with an audience.

Copyright 1999 Warner Bros. All rights reserved

In the case of "The Iron Giant," I'm pretty sure what helped this Brad Bird movie to ultimately break through was that 24-hour marathon that Cartoon Network staged back in July of 2002. If you talk with a lot of animation fans today, they'll tell you that it was that particular programming event (which marked "The Iron Giant" 's official debut on that cable channel) that then helped to put this Warner Bros. release on their radar. Sometime over July 2 - 3, 2002, they tuned in just to see what all the fuss was about and then found themselves getting caught up in the adventures of 9-year old Hogarth Hughes and his 50-foot tall metal friend.

And nowadays - some 17 years after "The Iron Giant" first opened in theaters and was then basically ignored by moviegoers - this acclaimed animated feature is now considered a true cinema classic. And with today's release of "The Iron Giant: Signature Edition" [Warner Home Video, September 2016] (which is the first time that this Brad Bird film has been available on Blu-ray), its legacy will just continue to grow. Thanks to "The Giant's Dream," an all-new documentary that then takes viewers behind-the-scenes during the production of this feature length cartoon. Not to mention those two minutes of new footage that Ken Duncan Studios animated for the signature edition of "The Iron Giant." Sequences that Bird had storyboarded for the original version of this movie but weren't then used due to time & budgetary issues.

Copyright Warner Home Video. All rights reserved

So I guess what I'm saying here is that Travis Knight & his team at Laika shouldn't lose heart. After all, even though "Kubo and the Two Strings" has only sold $36.6 million worth of tickets domestically to date, it's still already done better than "The Iron Giant" did back in 1999. Were you to combine the total amount of money that that Brad Bird movie made in North America AND internationally, it still only pulled in a total of $31.3 million.

More to the point, you guys have to give film fans time to discover this extraordinary stop motion movie. Though - if you're looking to speed that along - it probably wouldn't hurt to give the folks at Cartoon Network a call. See if they'd be willing to pull "A Christmas Story" (That's actually where CN's programmers supposedly got the idea for that "Iron Giant" marathon. The huge ratings that this 1983 Bob Clark film would rack up every holiday season when those "24 Hours of A Christmas Story" began airing on TBS & TNT back in 1997) with "Kubo and the Two Strings" in the not-so-distant future.

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Monday, September 5, 2016

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  • Jim, I kind of see where you are coming from but....I don't put Kubo in the same league as Iron Giant.

    The story falls apart in the Third Act - think about the ending especially - it doesn't gel - too many unexplained events occurred.

    After thinking about the movie overnight, another major item came to play too:  There is a Chekov's Gun at the end of the first act...something that we (Kubo) are warned to NEVER LET ANYTHING HAPPEN TO.

    In the theatrical cut that item is NEVER in danger, meaning that the warning was more of a hint for the power which could have been phrased differently.   I'm sure I could find a few more items that just didn't gel the way it should have.  So yes, it was a nice movie but I disagree with the overall thought about putting on the same level as Iron Giant.

  • In this case Kubo, I think it was failed in large part of the marketing. When the ads first starting showing up (on Sprout is where I noticed them first), it appeared to me as a cheap knockoff of Moana, rushing into theaters ahead of Disney (like a number of others before it... I recall a previous Jim Hill column about that. 😀)  The jokes/gags in the trailers went over my 6 & 3 year olds heads and led me to wonder why they were even running them on sprout.

    Since it was far off my radar to pay attention to, I had no idea until I read your previous review that it was stop motion. I will definitely give it a second look when it hits redbox with the high praise it has. Unfortunately stop motion isn't doing well at the box office. My six year old loved Shaun the Sheep movie and it bombed as well (it had very similar marketing on sprout, but he was familiar with the characters through Timmy Time)

  • I saw Kubo with my 7 year old grandson.  I thought that it was great while he thought it was "so-so".  I think that Kubo skewed more to an older (more adult) audience, but it was marketed as a kids movie.  I agree that I hope that it will eventually find it's audience just as Nightmare Before Christmas eventually did.

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