I found myself thinking recently; Hey, what’s a movie I really like that haven’t
seen in a while that contains some disability representation, either good or bad, that I’d
like to talk about? The answer came rather instantaneously. Kubo and the Two Strings. [rustic guitar music] This absolutely gorgeous stop-motion animated
movie came out in 2016 when I was seventeen years old. It was produced by Laika Entertainment, the
studio that’s brought us Coraline, Paranorman, the Boxtrolls, and most recently Missing Link. I watched Kubo pretty soon after it first
came out, and already back then I loved it. As I said this film is gorgeous, the music
is fantastic, the characters are good, the magic is exactly my aesthetic, the story… The story is heartfelt and gripping but it
does come with some negatives. I would love to sit here and tell you Kubo
is that one in a million movie with disability at the core of its story that
doesn’t fall into ableist tropes but unfortunately I can’t do that. Now, before I go any further I should make
it clear that I am not blind myself. I am not speaking from the perspective of
an audience member who had to sit there and hear this movie tell them ‘you are lesser’. I am speaking from the perspective of someone
who has been in that position, has heard that from other stories, and who is choosing to talk about this movie
in particular because he personally liked it. So what is it that Kubo does that’s so bad? Well, let me first introduce you to Kubo himself. We meet him as a baby, when his mother is
fleeing from what we soon come to find is her father and sisters. At the same time we also find out that Kubo’s
grandfather has stolen one of his eyes. So far so harmless. Villains in movies do shit of a multitude
of reasons, at this point we have no reason to think this is for any ableist reason. Not too long after we learn that if Kubo is
found the Moon King and his daughters will try to take him away from the mortal
realm, though for what purpose we still don’t know. Then with the introduction of Kubo’s aunts we find out the Moon King covets Kubo’s
remaining eye. [eerie echoing voices] – Come, Kubo.
Come to your aunties. No reason to be afraid, Kubo. We just need your other eye. Your grandfather admires it so. [narration] We just don’t know why yet. In fact at this point by the wording the sisters
use it seems to be more a case of twisted admiration. It’s not until much later that we learn that
the Moon King wants Kubo to join him in the Heavens. – Why does grandfather hate me? – Oh, Kubo. He doesn’t hate you. He wants to make you just like him. Blind to humanity, as I once was. Only then can you take your place beside him
as part of his family. Cold and hard and perfect. [narration] This is where the firs alarm bell
goes off and indeed once we meet the Moon King my fears were confirmed. He is blind, and his goal in blinding Kubo
would be to remove Kubo’s humanity. To make him cold and hard and perfect. So we’ve already stumbled head first into
a disability as a signifier of morality issue but then we get to the final fight and we
have this… darling little speech; – I’m not leaving. For every horrible thing down here, there’s
something far more beautiful. My mother saw it. So did my father. I see it, even with just one eye. – Then I’ll just have to rip it out of your
head again, won’t I? [instrument’s strings sound one at a time] – If you must blink, do it now. [instrument strums, music swells] – I know why you want my eye. Because without it I can’t look into the eyes
of another and see their soul, their love. – Everything you loved is gone! [narration] So. Uuuh. That’s a thing. But, but, that’s not all. That’s not even the end of it oh no. The Moon King is defeated by Kubo’s magic
and turned mortal and loses his memory of who he is and where
he came from, allowing him to start anew on earth and, you
know, be the kind of person who doesn’t steal
eyeballs from babies. It’s also implied he will be living in the
village he destroyed as the Moon King, and will care for Kubo as he always should
have. As a kind and gentle grandfather. That’s all well and good, and honestly a
really interesting ending for the main villain of the movie. The issue comes in a small little side effect
of his becoming human. He, uh. He becomes sighted in one eye. It’s kind of implied that, had Kubo not
struck his other eye during the battle, he would have become sighted in both. This. Is not ideal. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s actively
bad. Here the movie is telling us ‘If you are
this way, you are bad and you are lesser. You are less capable of compassion and of
caring for your fellow man’. Do I think it was the film-makers intention
to essentially say that all blind people are cold and cruel? No, but that is unfortunately what the use
of these tropes ends up communicating. To learn compassion and kindness he must be
granted sight. Mortality is not enough, he must see the world
in its full glory, even if only through one eye. This happens a lot with disabilities in media. Being tied to morality in one way or another,
being used as metaphors for something. Blindness in particular ends up being used
as a metaphor for ignorance quite often. Thing is disabilities aren’t metaphors. They’re real and more importantly the people
who have those disabilities are real. When you use a scarred face as a visual shorthand
for evil, or a wheelchair for a sense of fragility and
powerlessness, or blindness for ignorance you’re not just
telling a story about fictional characters you’re pushing a real idea about real people. Kubo also kind of ends up telling the audience
‘Oh you can be a little disabled but not too much.’ You can be disabled enough to cause some annoyance
in your daily life, but not so much so that other people have
to actively consider your existence when designing the world around you. But more strongly it falls directly into the
trap of using disability as shorthand for morality. Kubo is blind in one eye. The movie tells us, perhaps not intentionally
but still, that Kubo is a good person despite this disability. That, should the Moon King succeed and take
his other eye he would cease to be so. The Moon King himself is blind. He is evil, and cold, and cruel. He is inhuman, both literally and figuratively. The kind of man who would curse his daughter’s
husband and steal an eye from his grandchild just
to hold on to his own power. Simply because he cannot look into someone
else’s eyes and see their soul. Simply because he is disabled. It is not enough for him to become human in
the end. That alone can not cure him of his ills, literally becoming human is not enough to
grant him humanity. No, he needs to stop being so disabled. Otherwise how could he possibly start anew
and live a human life? This… annoys, disappoints, and frustrates
me. Because as I said I love this movie. But it can not be divorced from its ableist
tropes. There is no way to write around them, or correct
them, or ignore them. They are at the very core of the entire story. The entire story hinges on blindness as a
metaphor for coldness and ignorance of beauty and the goodness of
humanity. Which, you know, is not a good look. Just in general. Maybe don’t. Maybe stop and think that perhaps your villain
should not be the villain literally just because he is
disabled. Revolutionary idea, I know. Disability is not any kind of signifier of
morality. There are absolutely horrible, terrible disabled
people out there and there are disabled people who are practically
saints. Most of us tend to fall somewhere in the middle. You know. Like everyone does. So maybe just. Don’t do this anymore. Thanks for watching this video, and I hope
you stick around. Bye. [rustic guitar music]