From Laika Entertainment, the makers of such stop-motion animated films such as Coraline and ParaNorman, comes The Boxtrolls (opening today), a slick, entertaining and thoroughly British, animated family film. It’s based on the English children’s book, Here Be Monsters!, by Alan Snow.
As the story goes, a young boy in a Victorian-era English town ends up being raised by an underground group of “monsters” known as “Boxtrolls.” These ghastly – somewhat cute – little creatures come in all shapes and sizes, but wear cardboard boxes for clothes, using the boxes much like a turtle uses its shell, retreating into it should any danger arise. Their names come from the words printed on the various boxes they find, giving us characters like Fish, Fragile, and Sweets. These trolls are feared by the human society above the streets, mainly because of the untrue tales about the monstrous Boxtrolls that have been repeated and repeated all throughout the human’s lives.
These Boxtrolls appear at night and steal nearly anything they can, not out of maliciousness, but mostly curiosity. They are extremely handy with mechanical contraptions and engineering and the world they have built for themselves in the sewers is a true, imaginative sight to behold.
This young boy – known as Eggs – grows up believing he is a Boxtroll, like an industrialized Mowgli. Above ground, there is a villainous exterminator, aptly named Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley), who desperately wants to fit in with the cheese-loving rich. He is promised a seat at the table once he exterminates the town of every last menacing Boxtroll.
The hoity-toity-est of them, Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), is way too consumed with his fancy cheeses and even fancier friends, to notice that he is neglecting his only daughter, Winnie (Elle Fanning). One night, Winnie notices Eggs and also points out that he is a boy, not a Boxtroll, much to Eggs surprise.
Most of The Boxtrolls plays like an elongated episode of a Smurfs cartoon, with the evil Snatcher and his henchmen acting all Gargamel-like, with those pesky Smurfs, er, Boxtrolls, barely managing to escape his sinister grasp. It has an oddly claustrophobic feel, but creates a winning tone for adults and children alike: It does contain a few scary moments and some adult in-jokes, but its relentless pace will keep the attention of those of all ages.
The Boxtrolls isn’t really all that laugh-out loud funny, although it does have its moments. The evil henchmen, for example, are convinced they are heroes fighting evil, and Snatcher himself – visualized as a fat, dopey Tiny Tim in Mad Hatter’s clothing – provides most of the film’s pep. It’s not nearly as funny as ParaNorman nor does it have the plot-strength of Coraline, but visually, The Boxtrolls holds its own as one of the most snazzy and stylish stop-animation films to date.
Adults will also pick up on many deeper thematic elements, the undertone of harmony despite differences and how greed and obsessive power-mongering can lead to very, very bad things. There are some good surface messages too for the kiddies, like being yourself, helping your friends and not being afraid to grow, change and fight against the grain.
This isn’t the best animated film of the year (sorry, The Lego Movie still holds that title for me), but this is effective, entertaining and enjoyable family fare, even if its not all that ground-breaking. But one shouldn’t expect a film about monsters living in boxes to think, well, outside of the box.
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Adventure
Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes, Rated PG
Starring (voices of): Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning
Directed by Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi (feature film directorial debut for both)
Opens locally on Friday, Sept 26, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli’s “Star Ratings:”
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time