Review: The Boxtrolls (2014)

The Boxtrolls

Rating

Director
Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi
Screenplay
Phil Dale, Anthony Stacchi, Irena Brignull, Adam Pava (Novel: Alan Snow)
Length
96 min.
Starring
Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Tracy Morgan, Richard Ayoade, Dee Bradley Baker, Steve Blum, Nika Futterman, Toni Collette, Simon Pegg
MPAA Rating
PG for action, some peril and mild rude humor

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Review
When you think of computer generated animation, Pixar is the studio that leaps to your mind as the foremost creator. Yet, for stop-motion animation, there are two production houses that have been known for their equally brilliant worlds. With The Boxtrolls, Laika may have finally surpassed Aardman to become the reigning generator of stop-motion cinema.

Raised from infancy by a group of friendly, loving trolls who wear boxes as clothing, Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright), so named for the type of box he wears, has known nothing of the human civilization that lives above him except that they throw away some of the most awesome junk imaginable. In their quaint little home beneath the streets of Cheesebridge, a fictitious Victorian-era British town, things are about to change as a group of miscreants are abducting Boxtrolls from the streets.

Heading the operation to rid the city of Boxtrolls, Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) is working tirelessly to round up every last creature as a way to gain entrance into an exclusive cheese-loving club called the White Hats. His humble, peasant beginnings have led him to this devious errand while being physically allergic to the very food he so lovingly consumes.

Laika’s prior two outings, Coraline and ParaNorman explored coming of age stories that delved into bizarre and inventive worlds where only faith in oneself and the help of good friends can save you from the dire fate that awaits each of them. While the first two films are very dark in their execution, they have a light-hearted, childlike feel. The Boxtrolls has some of the darker elements, but is so focused on the kid-friendly environments that a lot of the depth and cynicism of those prior works is lost herein.

Similar to how Aardman Animation shifted too far towards kids-ville with their Pirates: Band of Misfits, Laika’s The Boxtrolls has a lot of fun humor, engaging situations and creative environments, but leaves the adults in the audience perplexed at where the inventive subversiveness of their past efforts has disappeared.

When you’ve been able to create such eye-popping visuals as the ones in both Coraline and ParaNorman, you come to expect consistent craftsmanship. The story employed in The Boxtrolls might not have been to the level of emotional or psychological depth of its predecessors, but the visual panache is every bit as resplendent. From the carefully crafted junk-as-construction material environment below the surface to the clever contraption known as the Briehemoth, every set piece and prop in The Boxtrolls teems with life and inventiveness. This in spite of the painstaking details required to crafted each individual working cog, painted, assembled and posed effortlessly to create the semblance of reality. Laika’s artists are beyond compare in the animation field even when compared to their CGI and hand-drawn counterparts.

The Boxtrolls will more easily appeal to children in the audience than its studio predecessors, but that doesn’t minimize the technical achievements of the film. A weak entry in any other studios’ production arms might have been truly miserable, but with Laika, being the weakest entry isn’t a bad place to be. It’s just not at the level most of Laika’s fans wish that it was.

Review Written

April 2, 2015

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