The BoxTrolls

Posted by Joel Copling on September 25, 2014

Matching the visual style and subversive menace of the Tim Burton responsible for two stop-motion-animated efforts with the narrative, thematic, and moral simplicity of classic Dr. Seuss gone AWOL, "The BoxTrolls" is a lovely delight, thin on the bones but willing to cull complexity from characters as defined as its superbly odd aesthetic. It has all the hallmarks of animation studio Laika's previous ilk (2009's "Coraline" and 2012's "ParaNorman," both just as lovely): a memorably wacky tone, likable and neatly-developed characters, the trusty stop-motion animation that showcases such levels of difficulty, and an audacity that stretches its PG rating to the brink.

Under the city of Cheesebridge dwell the Boxtrolls, hideous but cute creatures with unnervingly yellow eyes, gangly arms, and potato-like heads. They speak mostly in gibberish, with the odd word easily distinguishable from the rest. Each is named by a word or picture featured on its box: Fish (voice of Dee Bradley Baker, who also voices two others) seems the makeshift leader of the bunch, though this is no hierarchy, Shoe (voice of Steve Blum) is easily irritable and adorable, and so on. The society is a symbiotic one, based around a shared desire to survive. Rumor is, they used to be builders for those inhabitants above who needed something built, and now they must scavenge for food and rubbish they can fix.

There is the requisite legend around the Boxtrolls which the human citizens above have built for themselves: The "Trubshaw Boy" was taken by the evil Boxtrolls when he was only an infant. Now there is a Boxtroll Extermination squad, led by the greedy Archibald Snatcher (voice of a sensationally vindictive Ben Kingsley, on whom not enough praises can be bestowed). Snatcher wants to wear the white hat of the most exclusively wealthy group in the city (His quarry is Lord Portley-Rind, voiced by Jared Harris). But the "Trubshaw Boy," predictably, was not stolen so much as adopted, growing up with the moniker "Eggs" (voice of Isaac Hempstead Wright) until bumping into Lord Portley-Rind's inquisitive, sharp-witted daughter Winnie (voice of Elle Fanning).

Following a rough-and-tumble introduction to the underground world of the Boxtrolls, the film--based on a novel by Alan Snow, which has been adapted by Irena Brignull and Adam Pava--settles into a nice formula, as Eggs assimilates to life as the human he truly is (The scene in which he must be forced into the usual courtesy of a "proper boy" at a majestic dinner party is highly amusing). Snatcher and his three bumbling stooges (voiced by the eclectic likes of Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, and Tracy Morgan)--two of whom are amusingly caught up in an existential crisis before reaching a fairly bittersweet epiphany by the end--attempt, meanwhile, to commit genocide against the Boxtrolls. This level of outright danger is the darkest a rather menacing film becomes (Snatcher's comeuppance is second on that list), but "The BoxTrolls" embraces its occasionally vulgar quirks and asides to be a rather moving effort featuring characters whose positions in this story have clear precedent and are all the worthier for it.

Film Information

Featuring the voices of Isaac Hempstead Wright (Eggs), Ben Kingsley (Archibald Snatcher), Elle Fanning (Winnie), Jared Harris (Lord Portley-Rind), Nick Frost (Mr. Trout), Richard Ayoade (Mr. Pickles), Tracy Morgan (Mr. Gristle), Dee Bradley Baker (Fish/Wheels/Bucket), Steve Blum (Shoe/Sparky), Toni Collette (Lady Portley-Rind), Simon Pegg (Herbert Trubshaw), Nika Futterman (Oil Can/Knickers), Pat Fraley (Fragile/Sweets), and Fred Tatasciore (Clocks/Specs).

Directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi and written by Irena Brignull and Adam Pava, based on the novel "Here Be Monsters!" by Alan Snow.

Rated PG (action, peril, mild rude humor).

97 minutes.

Released on September 26, 2014.