by Ken B.
While I can’t say I’m a big fan of The Boxtrolls, I really liked the wit and British influences that are so core to Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi’s film. “Pythonesque” would be a word apt to describe many portions of its style, and a good number of the voice talents are noted British actors and comedians. The studio behind this movie is Laika, who brought us the wonderfully well done ParaNorman and equally memorable Coraline; while even though The Boxtrolls doesn’t live up to those high standards, it still has a unique aesthetic, charming characteristics, and a strong underlying message that make it both solid entertainment and a brief, pleasant change of pace from the kinds of animated films made by Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks that normally dominate the market.
The boxtrolls, in case you were wondering, are short creatures that look like goblins or gnomes (or, well, trolls), living in a Victorian-era town. Their name is derived from the cardboard boxes they wear on their body. They speak in an odd language, filled with grunts. They are reviled by the people who live in the streets above, so they live underground, in the sewers. One of the main reasons of the public’s hatred of boxtrolls is the belief that they kidnap and eat young children – but this is untrue, in fact, a human boy (voice of Isaac Hempstead Wright) has lived in their company since he was a baby. He’s called Eggs, because he wears an egg box (self-explanatory, I suppose). Eggs has a father figure in a boxtroll named Fish (voice of Dee Bradley Baker), and I suppose you can guess what image is on his box. As Eggs grows up, he gains a curiosity for the world above him, and nowhere does this prove more vital than when a scheme to eradicate boxtrolls, hatched by the mayor of the town, Lord Portley-Rind (voice of Jared Harris), and an exterminator with the apt name of Snatcher (voice of Ben Kingsley), comes to light. Eggs must now must stand up for the misunderstood creatures, a mission he will carry out with the help of the boxtrolls themselves, and Portley-Rind’s daughter Winnie (voice of Elle Fanning).
It seems like there’s an ongoing quest to make every animated movie look as sleek as possible, which is understandable, if not outright expected when working with modern CGI. But if you watch The Boxtrolls (which was not modern CGI), the first thing you might notice is just how ugly everything is. Humans are twisted figures, with such features as elongated heads, massive boils, or unpleasantly misshapen bodies. The boxtrolls are an icky vomit green, and the town where the film takes place is rather dingy. This is good, as it sets the mood for the 96 minute feature properly, a firm statement that this is not a normal animated movie. It’s a bit rougher around the edges (intentionally so), and makes good use of playing into its Victorian setting, with many costumes and set pieces playing to, and subsequently exaggerating the most grotesque trends of the day.
The screenplay by Irena Brignull and Adam Pava, based on the book Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow, has its fair share of fun banter and well structured scenes, but suffers from a lack of development, both in terms of the characters and, to a lesser extent, the plot. It seems that the lion’s share of focus in terms of the characters is doled out to the villains or their henchmen (who are voiced brilliantly by Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, and Tracy Morgan). Or possibly worse, the case may be that the balance is even but the scenes featuring our protagonists are less memorable. There does appear to be a feeling that with so much time and effort concentrated on jamming in comedy for the supporting cast, when the plot moves back to Eggs, Winnie, and the boxtrolls, the script shifts to neutral. When the credits roll, you feel entertained, but not very impressed by the story.
The Boxtrolls carries a charm to it that tries its best to take us through the rough patches (certainly the voice cast shows their abilities as well), and while it still feels like a lesser title for Laika, especially in the shadow of its two older releases, there’s still that underlying feeling of joy to be extracted from it. If nothing else, it’s worth seeking out if you’re in the mood for something different, a title that runs just off the beaten path, yet still comfortable and with a smooth factor of enjoyability that will work both to its target audience of younger kids and anyone older who treads on its soil.