MOVIE REVIEW: THE BOXTROLLS / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: GRAHAM ANNABLE, ANTHONY STACCHI / SCREENPLAY: IRENA BRIGNULL, ADAM PAVA / STARRING: BEN KINGSLEY, ISAAC HEMPSTEAD-WRIGHT, ELLE FANNING, JARED HARRIS, NICK FROST, RICHARD AYOADE, DEE BRADLEY BAKER, STEVE BLUM, SIMON PEGG / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
You have to feel sorry for poor old trolls. If upstart wizards aren’t dispatching them in Hogwarts bathrooms, they are being outsmarted in Middle-earth by a hobbit or used as arrow bait by Legolas. Trolls' appearances in films have ranged from the cute singers in Frozen to the animalistic creatures in the absolutely fantastic Troll Hunter, but LAIKA animation has aimed for a mixture of the two in their newest stop-motion/CG/3D hybrid. The Boxtrolls is a film that gives you a reasonably straightforward story of weird being wonderful but there is far more going on behind the boxes than meets the eye.
The town of Cheesebridge (ruled by white hat-wearing, cheese-tasting toffs) is ravaged at night by the sinister Boxtrolls, underground-dwelling, box-wearing scavengers who terrify the townsfolk. But when they steal a baby, the nefarious Archibald Snatcher (voiced wonderfully by Ben Kingsley) sets out on a long-term mission to exterminate the Boxtrolls. However, years later Whitehat leader Lord Portley-Rind’s (Harris) daughter Winnie (Fanning) meets a young boy who lives with the trolls called Eggs (Hempstead-Wright) and is forced to rethink just how sinister these Boxtrolls really are and just what Snatcher is really up to.
LAIKA aren’t known for offering sub-par efforts, their last two films – Coraline and Paranorman – being visual and narrative wonders, but The Boxtrolls is the studio’s most enjoyable yet. It's bound to divide audiences, with many likely to be a bit put off by some gross, dark imagery and intense moments, but it's also a cracking little family film, one that offers a rather affirming message of not excluding those that are different, as well as boasting some successful slapstick and yuck moments for kids and an equally wide world of discovery for adults, with the plot's ambitious reflections on the iniquities of the financial sector.
The animation is simply wonderful, blending stop-motion and moments of CG with grace and ease, making for a never less than impressive and full on-screen world. The film’s clockwork precision makes it as charming as a little music box. The Boxtrolls themselves are splendidly rendered and given strong characteristics despite their dialogue consisting of baby-like talk and grunts (provided mostly by Dee Bradley Baker and Steve Blum). Brignull and Pava’s screenplay does real justice to the source material, Alan Snow’s children’s novel Here be Monsters!.
Eggs (named for the label on his box) and Winnie are charming little outcast leads, the most accepting and open humans on display in the film. The Boxtrolls suggests that the real monsters are our preconceptions about others, and also those who abuse authority (a powerfully relevant notion for a kids' film). And to that end the antagonist, Archibald Snatcher, is a truly show-stealing creation. Heinous both morally and visually,this Dickensian cross-dressing (yes you read right) villain is lent a seething arrogance by the almost unrecognisable vocals of the ever-brilliant Kingsley. In fact, everyone in the stacked cast (you won’t believe some of the voices that were involved, come the brilliantly picturesque end credits) likewise makes their characters stand out in some way or another.
This is a film which delightfully bubbles with emotion, scares, humour and character, and while a mixed reception inevitably awaits – it has to be noted how strong it is for youngsters – a film with so much on offer deserves praise. It seems that early responses have been mixed simply because it’s a bit… okay, a lot weird. Well, we say thank God for people like the folks at LAIKA, who not only make oddness appealing, but irresistible. The Boxtrolls just might be LAIKA’s best yet, a low-fi animated belter in a year where animation (How To Train Your Dragon 2 aside) has been tepid. You’ll want to box it and label it precious.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10