October 1, 2014

Movie Review: The Boxtrolls

I have to admit, when I went in to see The Boxtrolls, I had no idea what I was in for. Despite the fact that I was really looking forward to it, I had no idea what it was about. Still, Laika, the production company behind the film, has been on quite the roll. They have two features prior to this and they have both been fantastic (those being Coraline and ParaNorman), so with that track record it is kind of like an early Pixar release. Between the gorgeous stop motion animation and their ability to tell tales that appeal to all ages while not pandering to their target audience, there was every reason to believe this would be a success.

The Boxtrolls was co-directed by Graham Annable (art departments on both of Laika's features) and Anthony Stacchi (co-director Open Season, special effects on James and the Giant Peach). The two work well and bring a delightful story of monsters, understanding, and prejudice to the world in wonderful fashion. The screenplay duties were handled by Irena Brignull and Adam Pava, based on the novel “Here Be Monsters” by Alan Snow. As I sat there in the theater, I was wondering if the Boxtrolls were based on any actual mythological creatures, it appears not, although I am sure that Alan Snow had some sort of real world (myth/legend/whatever) inspiration. Whatever the case, it is a wonderful tale turned into a really fun film.

The darkly attractive animated feature has a deliciously evil villain named Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) who has told tales of the awful and vicious monsters living beneath the streets, the Boxtrolls. Along with his trio of henchmen (Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, and Tracy Morgan) have enforced a curfew on the fearful townsfolk as they have worked to round up the creatures. The centerpiece of their story is a baby that was allegedly taken and eaten by the Boxtrolls. It works on the town, but is not exactly the truth.

The Boxtrolls do not kidnap or eat babies. The allegedly eaten baby was raised beneath the streets and now goes by the name Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), their names taken from the box they where. They are scavengers, inventors, mechanics, and they pick through garbage to find the thrown away treasures that can be repurposed into something else.

The story kicks into gear when Eggs adoptive father is captured by Snatcher and his goons. Eggs ventures to the surface where he meets an inquisitive little girl, Winny (Elle Fanning). It is here that he learns his true identity and must overcome his learned nature to save the Boxtrolls from Snatcher. There are also ideas of living in fear, prejudice against the unknown, and the joy of inventing.

There really is a lot going on in this movie that will work for both kids and adults. Beyond the messages, the characters are interesting, the Boxtrolls are pretty interesting, and I just love the animation. I am also appreciative of an animated family movie that is not afraid to be a little more serious, a little darker, and just dare to be different.

The bottom line is that The Boxtrolls is a wonderful movie. It does not quite linger in the same way that Coraline and ParaNorman do, but that is a small thing. There is some great design work, the animation is great, and I love the existential bit on existence by Snatcher's henchmen during the credits, it plays off nicely from their asides throughout the film. Basically, go and see this.

Highly Recommended.

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