“The Boxtrolls” is the latest in a string of quirky, semi-creepy, stop-motion animated kids’-but-not-really-kids’ movies from Laika, whose previous hits include “Coraline” and “Paranorman”. “The Boxtrolls” is not as strong a film as those, but it does succeed in conveying the beauty of an art form that is unfortunately now rarely-used by bigger studios.
The film is set in a town called Cheesebridge, whose inhabitants live in fear of the boxtrolls that live underground. But the trolls are far from the fierce creatures the townspeople believe them to be; they are actually innocent trash collectors. These boxtrolls raise a human boy who they call Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright). As the years pass, the boxtroll exterminator known as Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) kidnaps more and more trolls until there are only a few left, prompting Eggs to venture above ground to try and stop him. He is joined by a feisty girl named Winnie (Elle Fanning), the daughter of the town’s self-centered leader Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), who helps Eggs realize that he is actually a boy, not a boxtroll.
First off, let’s talk about that beautiful, beautiful animation. With the popularly of CGI animation showing no signs of slowing down, it’s wonderful to see a studio like Laika preserving the art of stop-motion. This particular style of animation lends itself well to this story; there’s a sort of dull griminess about the sets and characters that suits the boxtrolls’ dwelling, as well as Cheesebridge, whose leaders are hiding some secrets of their own. The character design is brilliant, with no one human or troll character looking exactly alike. Laika is certainly aware of and takes pride in the work they do, as evidenced by this film’s first trailer and a wonderful little sequence that takes place midway through the end-credits, depicting one of the animators working on a scene as the two characters he’s animating philosophize about the nature of their lives. The technical brilliance of “The Boxtrolls” is unparalleled by any other animated movie this year.
The voice cast is also excellent, reflecting the diverse group of characters this story is host to. Besides those already mentioned, Nick Frost and Richard Ayoade play Mr. Trout and Mr. Pickles, Snatcher’s henchmen who, as the film progresses, begin to wonder if they really are the good guys as they had always believed. Simon Pegg voices a crazy gentleman whose identity would spoil the movie if I revealed it. And the endearing, gibberish-speaking trolls are voiced by the likes of Dee Bradley Baker and Steve Blum. Each one of these characters, regardless of how much screen time he or she gets, feels well-developed and has an arc that follows through to the end.
The film’s flaws are largely story related. There are simply some parts of the story that don’t add up or feel disjointed, like Egg’s backstory. Like, Eggs knows what he looks like and what other humans look like, but is shocked to learn he isn’t a troll? How did he even learn how to speak English spending most of his life underground? Okay, now I’m nit-picking a bit, but there are a few too many tangents this film goes off on to make as compelling as, say, “Paranorman”, which had a very focused storyline. There’s not just Eggs trying to save the boxtrolls from extermination, there’s Eggs learning about himself, the exterminator trying desperately to get in which the politicians, Winnie trying to make her dad notice her, and the box trolls learning not to be afraid. In pieces it’s fine, but as a whole the various stories don’t work too well together.
Still, “The Boxtrolls” is a worthy accomplishment and probably the best animated film so far this year (but let’s face it, there haven’t been too many good ones). I hope Laika continues doing what they’re doing, because they’re doing it right.
Runtime: 97 minutes. Rated PG for action, some peril and mild rude humor.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre
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