Chronicle and Battle of the Sexes are fine, but I honestly don’t remember much about Kubo. Holy cow, I really don’t remember Kubo. I know there was origami folding, a giant skeleton, and a monkey and a beetle, and it was elaborate stop motion effects. Hmm…
Just to be clear, I’m pretending like this is the show Chopped!, so I’m not allowed to cheat, i.e., look up the plot summary on Wikipedia. This is all from memory – lucky you!
Ooh, also, two floating witches from Kubo! Alright. Our story opens on two floating witches. They give an ominous monologue about a young girl named Emma Stone, whom they call the chosen one. They say she can defeat the skeleton king, who will be brought back to life once Emma is of age, and doing so will restore order to the universe. We zoom in on their thin, bony hands – each witch has a string. They give them a nice twang, and the screen goes to black.
Title card: “CHRONICLE – THE STRINGS OF BATTLE”.
Cut to Emma, a rambunctious girl in a suburban neighborhood who is.roughly the same age as Kubo (8 or 9?? We’ll go with 9). Emma is playing tennis with another girl in the neighborhood named Billie Jean. They joke and banter about what they want to be when they grow up. Billie Jean says she wants to be a stay at home mom. Emma says that doing so will set back the cause of women’s rights by 100 years, and that she is going to be the world’s best tennis player. She hits the ball into a neighbor’s backyard to prove her strength, they hear a dog barking, and run back to Emma’s house before the neighbor sees them.
Pan over to the neighbor’s house (one continuous take), where an adorable rottweiler name Matt brings the ball inside, meanders through a kitchen littered with remains of a raging alcoholic, tiptoes past a sick mother lying on the couch, then goes upstairs. He stands in front of a closed bedroom door, bites down (dropping the shards of tennis ball onto the carpet), and barks.
“I hate you!” says a voice from behind the door. Matt whimpers and curls up in shame. We go to the inside of the bedroom, where a 9 year old boy named Andrew is laying on his bed. He has a video camera, which is floating above him. That’s right, floating above him. He has powers!
Andrew looks angsty, and he records himself making angry faces. He turns his head to the side and notices a beetle crawling along his desk. He redirects his telekinetic energies to the beetle and picks it up with his mind. But, doing so makes the camera fall on his head. He shouts angrily and drops the beetle, which scurries underneath the door. Cut back to Matt, who jolts up and chases the beetle downstairs gleefully.
Cut to Andrew, who is wincing from the camera. He hears shouting from downstairs – his father is mad at Matt for running around, but he’s yelling at Andrew. Andrew looks out his bedroom window across the street and sees Billie Jean and Emma playing with CEO Barbies and stuffed animals in Emma’s bedroom. A perfect picture of the American dream, the life Andrew will never have. “I’ll make him pay. I’ll make them all pay…” Andrew whispers ominously.
The camera travels slowly from Andrew’s room to Emma’s. As it does, a timelapse indicates changing seasons and passage of time. By the time it lands in Emma’s room, she’s almost 18 – text at the bottom of the screen reads: “9 YEARS LATER”.
Emma is practicing her tennis swings. Her room is decorated with inspirational posters of female tennis players. She gets a call from Billie Jean – they banter about career plans. Emma casually jokes that she has a crush on Billie Jean, Billie Jean jokes that she doesn’t reciprocate. It’s very laid back, leading us to believe this good natured exchange happens regularly. Billie Jean asks if she wants to hang out, Emma says she would love to. They agree to meet in the park.
Cut to the park (dark skies, for drama). Emma looks around in vain for Billie Jean, but she’s nowhere to be found. A mysterious wind ripples through the trees. Emma, not easily moved by such theatrics, asks who’s there. A cave opens up in the ground. She descends courageously.
Inside, she meets the two witches. They tell her that she must compete in the battle of a lifetime against the evil skeleton king. They also give her the two strings for good luck. Emma scoffs at the notion that she needs string, because she is a strong, determined woman who can do anything she puts her mind to. The witches smack her upside the head and tell her that if she doesn’t take this quest seriously, the world will come to an end. Only she can defeat the king – and the battle is fast approaching.
Emma suddenly finds herself in the park; the sky is clear, no mysterious wind. Billie Jean comes running up and says dramatically, “where were you? I’ve been looking everywhere! What happened?” Emma, speechless, opens up her hand and sees that she’s holding two strings.
Cut to 17 year old Andrew. He has two miniature samurai made of paper, which he is fighting with each other using mind powers. This sequence is shot using multiple cameras, which are all floating around Andrew’s room, watching the makeshift fight while Andrew narrates.
There’s a sharp knock on the door, Matt barks loudly. Andrew’s drunken father starts yelling at him about being deadweight and not taking care of his mother. Andrew tells him to go away, but his father won’t listen. In rage, Andrew kills him with his telekinesis – the death is implied but not shown, we simply hear the father’s body thudding to the floor.
Andrew immediately panics. He runs out of the room, cringes at his father’s corpse in regret, then goes to see his mother. Matt is at her side, licking her hand. Andrew offers consolation and tells her he’ll take care of her. His mother smiles faintly, then fades into sleep. Andrew goes back into his room, grabs his keys, then leaves to get medicine. (Also, just to be clear: he is reluctant to use his powers in the real world and instead keeps them a secret)
Suddenly Andrew drops into a hole in the ground, like the one Emma fell into. He meets an evil beetle human hybrid who tells him he can give Andrew a lifetime supply of medicine, if Andrew will fight against the evil one. Andrew is hesitant, but then learns that this was the same beetle he picked up 9 years ago. And when a giant f***ing beetle comes back and threatens you, you do what it says, so Andrew agrees. Also, Matt is next to Andrew for support.
Back to Emma, who is training in her room for the battle (which she still finds ridiculous). All of a sudden, her stuffed monkey named Steve Carell comes to life! Steve is there to help her in battle, she thinks she’s high because of all the weird hallucinations. Steve insists that it’s real, and there’s a whole world she doesn’t know about. He takes her into an expository realm where he tells her all about the hidden world of good and evil. A world of superpowers, talking animals, destiny and fate, and even gender equality! That last bit really hits home with Emma.
A similar explanation is taking place in parallel for Andrew, who is being escorted by the giant beetle (named Matthew McConaughey). Matthew shows him the same world as Steve, except it’s a darker version, because Matthew is ‘a bad guy’. Matt (rottweiler, not the beetle) seems scared by this new place, and he walks close to Andrew’s side. Matthew (the beetle) takes him to a steampunk dojo so he can begin training. He explains that Andrew’s telekinesis is a rare and sacred gift, capable of great good and greater evil. Andrew agrees.
Back to Emma again. Steve (the monkey) explains that she needs to travel to the training grounds so she can prepare for battle. Billie Jean walks in and is stupefied by the talking stuffed monkey. Emma explains everything. Emma says that she’ll fight, BUT ONLY if it’s in the human world – she isn’t about to relocate for a battle. Steve says that she jumped to a hasty conclusion, and that the battle was already set to be held at an abandoned junkyard. A brief closeup shot of Emma reveals that she has learned humility.
Andrew and Emma both begin training. Separate montages for each, but alternating one to the other. Emma and Billie Jean practice combat in the park (which Billie Jean is remarkably adept at, being a strong woman). Emma just can’t get the hang of it, because all she knows is tennis. Billie Jean explains that it’s like tennis, but with a sword instead of a racket. Suddenly Emma is really good, now that she sees the parallels with fighting. She pretends her tennis racket is a sword and ‘duels’ with Steve and Billie Jean, proving her worth and drive with every swing.
Andrew, meanwhile, is less and less enthralled with each training session. Matthew the beetle is overly aggressive, and Andrew is beginning to think that signing up for this battle wasn’t worth it after all. And besides, he has telekinesis, so he could easily make money on Earth if he could just be comfortable using his powers in public. But Matthew the beetle ignores him. As an incentive, he traps Matt the dog in a mythical prison cell, and the only escape is if Andrew wins. Zoom in on a whimpering Matt, cut to a determined Andrew, who channels his rage into his combat training with Matthew.
The day of the battle draws near. Emma turns 18, so she and Billie Jean celebrate by going to see a movie. As the movie begins, Billie Jean shyly confides that she loves Emma. So they hold hands in the theater, while Steve third wheels in the seat next to them. Emma tells Steve they need privacy – he leaves, and Emma makes out with Billie Jean in the dark.
Cut to Steve walking through the junkyard where the battle will be held. He sees Andrew sitting by himself, crying and crushing cars using telekinesis. Andrew confides in Steve that Matt is being held hostage unless he wins the battle. And Andrew doesn’t even know who he’s fighting, so what’s the point?? Steve empathizes, and tells him that sometimes they just need to play their part if they want to make the world a better place, because it’s out of their control.
Steve is scared off by Matthew the beetle (who doesn’t see Steve). Matthew impresses on Andrew the urgency of the fight – it’s tomorrow morning. Andrew grudgingly tells him he’ll be ready, but asks to be left alone. Matthew won’t leave him alone, and forces Andrew to fight him, because he’s not ready. A weary Andrew begins fighting. We cut to Emma and Billie Jean in Emma’s room, cuddling under the sheets. Steve knocks on her door and tells her the battle is in the morning. Emma tells him that women everywhere will be impressed by her incredible victory, but that she needs some rest before then. Steve says he’ll go find her a sword.
Panoramic shot of the junkyard. Text on screen: “DAY OF THE BATTLE”.
Andrew is nowhere to be seen. Emma is standing in a giant dirt patch, surrounded by piles of trash and metal. Steve lugs out a giant sword from the nether-realm for Emma to battle with, and she looks around impatiently for the skeleton king.
He appears – a giant, 10-foot high skeleton king, menacing and evil. The fight begins. As Emma battles tenaciously, we pan over to a pile of crushed cars. Andrew is there, manipulating the skeleton with his mind powers, revealing that it’s little more than a shell of bones. Matthew the beetle tells him he’s doing a good job. Andrew glances nervously at Matt’s cage, which is floating a few feet away. He concentrates on the battle, not willing to lose Matt.
Cut back to Emma fighting. The skeleton starts throwing flaming piles of trash at her, which she dodges, but it’s intense. One of them accidentally breaks her sword. Matthew the beetle laughs as she scrambles for cover, the puppet of a skeleton closing in on her. Suddenly she sees it – in the distance, an old wooden tennis racket. She yells for Billie Jean, who heroically rushes to the racket and throws it to Emma. BUT IT HAS NO STRINGS!
Emma looks forlorn, like all hope is lost – BUT WAIT! She pulls out the two strings, ties one horizontally, one vertically, then steps out to face the skeleton. The skeleton throws a crumpled up car at her, but she repels it with the racket (which is glowing blue and gold with power) – it flies back at the skeleton, scattering the bones across the junkyard.
Triumphant, Emma, Billie Jean and Steve all embrace. A cut to the other side of the junkyard reveals a distraught Andrew. Matthew the beetle is disappointed in him, and prepares to kill Matt (the rottweiler) as punishment. Cut back to Emma’s group, which is greeted by the two witches. They shows her the enemy, Andrew, and congratulate her. Emma is taken aback – she knows Andrew, and she knows about his abusive father and sick mother. He may be a weird kid, she remarks, but he’s not a killer – he’s just a victim.
The witches tell her that this mentality is left-wing propaganda, but Emma is smarter than them. She walks over to Andrew and consoles him, telling him it’s not his fault. The witches shout at Emma to stop, and Matthew the beetle shouts at Andrew to stop.
After some interrogation, we discover from Matthew and the witches that there’s no fate or destiny involved in the battle. In the same way that Andrew was battling with the origami samurai for fun, so the witches and Matthew battle with humans for fun. All that stuff about the chosen one, the world coming to an end – even the bit about Matthew being the beetle from Andrew’s childhood – it was all made up. Andrew and Emma look at each other dramatically. We hear barking: Steve Carell has opened up Matt’s cage, and he runs excitedly to Andrew.
Final shot from left to right: Steve Carell sitting on Billie Jean’s shoulders, Emma Stone with a superpowered tennis racket, Andrew with some floating junk to highlight his telekinesis, and Matt the rottweiler looking lovable. We see Matthew and the two witches panic.
End credits, fight music begins playing.