Written by Dania Syed
What To Expect
“Where are the rivers of blood and mountains of bones? I was promised mountains of bones!” cries a manic 10-year-old “Winnie” as she stumbles across the Boxtrolls’ lair, much to the grotesque amusement of viewers. Don’t be alarmed though, you aren’t being promised any blood or bones!
As it continues to establish its base in the animation industry, stop-motion studio Laika follows up its successful preceding features, Coraline and ParaNorman with a kooky family musing, The Boxtrolls. Personally, I anticipated a Tarzan-meets-Wall-E-meets-Mowgli-meets-Minions-inspired fable, promising some gratifying family entertainment. Soften the latter expectation a tad, and you will come out of this film grinning ear to ear.
What’s it About?
Tales of heinous little beasts throng the fictitious Victorian-era town of Cheesebridge, eccentrically populated over a mountain, and the kidnapping of a human child, “The Trubshaw Baby,” much to the frenzy of residents, prompts a curfew as Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) and his exterminators are mandated to rid the town of the titular monsters, the‘boxtrolls.’
Quite the opposite of being tattered and gobbled, the Trubsaw Baby, named Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Write), is lovingly cared for and raised by the boxtrolls as their own. As they scavenge the town taking cover of the night for discarded scraps to overhaul, Snatcher and his exterminators continue to eliminate the boxtrolls, whose once abundant cavern is eventually reduced to just a few members. After Eggs encounters Winnie (Elle Fanning), the neglected daughter of Cheesebridge’s apathetic mayor (Jared Harris), boy and girl ally to set the misplaced priorities of their world right, and put a stop to the obliteration of the misrepresented and misunderstood boxtrolls.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The Boxtrolls combines Roald Dahl’s idiosyncratic whims and Charles Dickens’s colourful squalor. It’s got special appeal for those fond of humour that is barmy or British – or both for that matter. Anthony Stacchi, who directed the 2006 Sony Pictures Animation hit Open Season, joins hands with Laika’s feature-veteran Graham Annable for their first directorial venture together. Both Stacchi and Annable have work-experience worth recognition in the industry, and The Boxtrolls is a testimony to their attention to detail in design and animation.
Under Frankenweenie animator Daniel Anderson’s vanguard, The Boxtrolls embodies an ambience very reminiscent of a Tim Burton feature, which coupled with the dexterous hands of Production Designer Paul Lasaine, who boasts quite an enviable show-reel, bolsters the film’s visual world with a painterly quality seldom seen in the stark world of digital computer-based animation.
Writer Adam Pava, renowned in the TV Industry for his works on Cartoon Network’s Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends and My Gym Partner’s A Monkey, bands together with Irena Brignull for both of their first feature loosely based on Alan Snow’s novel “Here Be Monsters!” And this is where the film’s flaws surface slowly but surely.
Various subliminal messages are woven in between the lines throughout the film, depending on where you see it from. The Boxtrolls salvaging detritus and refashioning it into something of use is symbolic of searching for and making something better and more compassionate out of a culture’s existing machinery and mess. The film promotes conventional kid-flick messages of tolerance towards those who are different, believing in yourself, and fighting the tendency to fall prey to hearsay. Archibald Snitcher’s accomplices constantly questioning and/or reassuring themselves of the motives behind their actions being good, and Cheesebridge Mayor Lord Portley-Rind’s indifferent stance to some grave outstanding issues might even be making a political statement! None of this is to say, however, that this film is an in-your-face preaching. Au contraire, it is quite assuring to watch a narrative incorporate all of the above so subtly.
The real shortcoming here is the lack of depth the characters have to offer. As likeable or relatable as they may be, the characters never seem to escape the harness of their cartoonish trapping. In the last act of the film, the meticulously constructed stop-motion is bogged down by a redundant chain of climaxes and unnecessary extra minutes that only take away from the enjoyable experience.
To Perform Or Not To Perform
Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, 1983) is at the front of a commemoration for bringing to life the repugnant Archibald Snatcher whose macabre demeanor makes you cringe.
TV series Game of Thrones’s Isaac Hempstead Wright lends his voice to Eggs, and he delivers a satisfactory performance for a character that does not offer much to exploit. Nominated for the Teen Choice Awards for her performance in Maleficent, Elle Fanning is delightful with her personation of a cherubic, ringleted little girl in dire need of more attention of her aristocratic parents. Jared Harris, a Hollywood personage more prominently known for his performance in TV Series Mad Men, provides moments of bizarre laughs with his sheer nonchalant lack of concern for his responsibilities as both mayor and a father.
Stop-motion is an artisanal venture with detail-adoring work that serves as a great contribution to an age-old tradition. The environments throughout The Boxtrolls have been created with great attention-to-detail, making each scene an eye-catching one. The characters’ “veddy British” enunciation and customs adds charm to the film despite its few flaws.
If you have appreciation for the art, The Boxtrolls is surely worth watching after all the years it took to complete it. Do stay for the final credit roll – its deep-thinking yet whimsical riff on the art of animation and life will have you give way to laughs for a very creatively enjoyable finish.
Star Rating: 3 / 5