The Boxtrolls Review
This had to be an aberration right? Two movies I really liked in September? Well, whatever the reason, Laika studios are back with another astonishingly gorgeous stop-motion film: The Boxtrolls. From a studio that brought us stuff like ParaNorman and Coraline, this new film has quite a pedigree to live up to, and for the most part, I can say that The Boxtrolls succeeds.
The story starts with a small, creepy looking creature apparently abducting a child on a dark stormy night. The local pest catcher, Archibald Snatcher (played by Ben Kingsley), warns the local aristocrats, called White Hats, that this will happen to all children in the town of Cheesebridge (many cheese puns ensue). Snatcher (who is totally not the villain) offers to catch all the creatures, called Boxtrolls, if they make him a White Hat, something unheard of anywhere in fiction or otherwise. Of course, this being a children’s film by Laika, nothing is as it seems, and the Boxtrolls have taken the child and raised him as their own. Since all the Boxtrolls name themselves based on what’s on the box they’re in, they name him Eggs. He then grows up thinking he’s a Boxtroll until roughly 10 years later when he meets a young White Hat girl named Winnie PortleyRind (played by Elle Fanning) who along with the rest of the town believe he died and was eaten by the Boxtrolls. The story has come to be called “The Trubshaw Baby,” and it’s regularly told by Madame Butterfly (who is Snatcher in drag) to stir up fear of the Boxtrolls. Once Eggs convinces Winnie that the stories are lies, they have to work together to save the captured Boxtrolls and convince the people of Cheesebridge that a guy who looks like this is evil.
The story goes on from there, but it isn’t anything you can’t see coming from a mile away based on that synopsis. In terms of the story, it’s mostly strong with characters, action scenes, and some of the humor. I didn’t think I would be able to laugh at so many jokes related to cheese, but that’s largely due to how much I like the characters. Snatcher is a great villain, both in terms of design and comedic villain traits. For example, he’s obsessed with eating the best cheeses, even though he’s violently allergic to cheese, and with such a build hilarity always ensues. Winnie is also great as a super prissy snob who’s obsessed with gothic gruesome horror and seeks out the Boxtrolls because she hopes to see them eat people. Further, her personality results in great lines like, “Go ahead and eat me! I’m probably delicious,” which is hilarious. A lot of the humor feels like intentional satire of 19th century Britain, right down the central plot point of a villainous working class man (wearing a red hat) scheming to enter the ranks of the foppish, inefficient upper class (with the white hats). Ed Harris’s Mayor PortleyRind is particularly funny at how out-of-touch and unfocused he is with lines like, “We could have spent all this money to build a new school for the underprivileged, but then we couldn’t build this giant wheel of cheese…The Brie-Hemoth!!” Of course, this is a kid’s movie, and what’s a good kids movie without some gross out humor. Luckily, Laika is smart enough to turn even this into satire, like in a scene where Eggs is shoveling food down his throat at a fancy dinner party, and all the adults are disgusted, and his response is to throw it all up, get a fork, and eat it correctly like a proper Englishman.
Of course, good scripting and great animation (which should come as no surprise at this point for fans of Coraline or Paranorman) is nothing without great voice acting. Luckily, this is the funniest I think Ben Kingsley has ever been, hamming and cheesing it up as the ridiculous villain riding his steam-punk death machine (you heard me). Elle Fanning is great as Winnie, and the master of animal voice acting, Dee Bradley Baker, along with Steve Blum give excellent, diverse voicing to the various Boxtrolls. Combine this together with stunningly rendered stop-motion animation and plenty of funny and interesting action sequences, and you have a really fun children’s movie.
Now, as much as I liked this movie, I will admit it has some notable problems. While I said I liked the humor of the movie, I feel that a lot of the scripted jokes in the first half don’t really work. The voice acting in them is great, but the jokes feel too obvious and some of the real groaners are dragged out way too long so that you just want the characters to be silent and move on. Further, a lot of significant plot threads in the first act are just kind of glossed over, like how creatures that speak almost no English managed to make Eggs a fluent English speaker. Also, why did no one go looking for the baby after it was apparently kidnapped? What made the main villain want to start cross-dressing and dancing for the upper class? A lot of questions like this tend to get swept under the rug, and it feels like the movie is trying to rush through the establishment phase of its plot in order to get to the fun stuff. The result is a movie that is fun to watch, but for quite a while you feel like you are two or three steps behind the storytellers. This isn’t helped by the fact that Eggs is a rather boring main character. The voice actor is really good, but considering how well defined and developed the main characters in ParaNorman and Coraline were, Eggs is really difficult to get behind because everything interesting about him is either clichéd or related to his back-story.
The Boxtrolls is not a flawless movie, but it’s still a pretty darn good one. With fantastic animation, great voice acting, and a large hunk of cheesy offbeat Laika Studios humor, the film is pretty consistently entertaining. An awkward first act, a boring lead, and plenty of groaner jokes that get stuffed down your throat kept me from saying it’s a great movie, but it is still highly recommended.
The Boxtrolls might be Laika Studio's weakest film, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't see it. It's good jokes far outweigh its bad ones, and the problematic early plotting is made up for with a great villain, likable characters, and plenty of astounding action. The first third is a mixed bag, but the rest is consistent, cheesy goodness.