Directed by: Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi
Cast: Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Jared Hess, Simon Pegg
Running Time: 1 hr 37 mins
Release Date: September 26, 2014
PLOT: Underground inventors known as boxtrolls are wrongfully feared by a town that loves cheese.
WHO’S IT FOR? Those who like inventive, ambitious films.
As computer animation becomes keyboard-mashing wizardry that awes with the amount of hair follicles but remains a mystery to the public eye, stop-motion like in The Boxtrolls provides a wholly different wonder, that of watching an entire set of figures come to life through precision and extreme dedication. The work of LAIKA Animation Studios, as reminded in The Boxtrolls, provides filmgoers quite a visual treat for those looking to witness marvelous handmade ambition.
The Boxtrolls are short inventive creatures who scour in the night and fix things within the town of Cheesebridge, whilst, indeed, wearing boxes. They are framed one night as vicious monsters after they are wrongfully accused of stealing a human baby (later voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright). The event causes the town’s leader, Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Hess), to initiate a fear-driven extermination plan that is taken up by the deviant Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), a hustler who will do anything for a prominent “white hat,” as worn by the town’s 1% while they eat the finest cheeses.
Meanwhile, the Boxtrolls prove to be an incredibly peaceful and inventive bunch living underground, who raise their human baby named Eggs (for the box that he wears), while they are slowly wiped out by Snatcher. When only a few Boxtrolls are left, Eggs ventures up to the city (awkwardly dressed as a regular person) to investigate the culture that has caused terror of such Boxtrolls. At the surface level, he learns that his story of living with the Boxtrolls has been spun into a story for a fear-driven culture. He also meets a young girl named Winnie who causes him to question his identity, as to whether he is boy, or boxtroll.
This is, of course, all brought to gleeful life in a stop-motion animation extravaganza, one defined by its exquisite focus on visual detail and intricate usage of a camera’s framing and light. The charm in The Boxtrolls is of witnessing such ambition, to see how this project has a life different than other animation due to its form.
It is this craftiness that is represented in the film’s storytelling as well, rife with symmetry and symbolism, all ushered with the same care as the hundreds of hours used to make one character move. With this narrative taking on many layers, The Boxtrolls providing an experience that engages beyond its visual sumptuousness. Themes of identity and civil rights are blended together sharply, and with playfulness, recalling the same intent on showing the danger of fearing the unknown as in their previous film ParaNorman. Even the obvious connection to the 1% functions swiftly despite such heavy handedness due to the film’s daffy sense of humor. As direct a metaphor as the cheese may be, the story sharply angles on the entitlement people have to that dream, and to the lengths that people will go for materialism. It’s nothing as incredible or tactful as what ParaNorman says about those who may seem different than us, but it still works.
The unique adventure of The Boxtrolls is a swift, sometimes grim, always charming and rarely-dull one. Humor is a rampant source of joy, as inspired by means to challenge the expected (a rimshot punchline joke comes randomly and marvelously). Characters are created vividly with layered personalities, from young Winnie’s macabre interests despite her fears to Archibald’s henchmen, who ponder out-loud whether they are actually the villains who have become feared. While the voices can’t be immediately guessed, there is still a lively sense of work being put into their audible vitalization, with voices being stretched and smashed to enliven bright dialogue. It becomes fitting later in the end credits as to the many wacky A-listers who have made the sharp humor sing even louder, in a list that ranges from Ben Kingsley to Simon Pegg.
If it wasn’t already proven with their previous film ParaNorman, LAIKA Animation Studios has reached a level of prominence reserved for the most revered of animation juggernauts. Like Studio Ghibli and Pixar before it, the company has achieved a status in which their projects have high standards among themselves, and at the same time few contemporaries. The Boxtrolls is worth a gander alone for its unparalleled craftiness.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10