“They’ll gnaw your knees!” “They’ll pick their teeth with your bones!” No, the citizens of Cheesebridge are not talking about Ariana Grande fans, they are talking about boxtrolls, creatures who live in the underbelly of Cheesebridge and are vastly misunderstood. Boxtrolls are curious, kind little monsters, but Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), a man desperate for prestige, wants to use them for his own selfish gain. You see, Snatcher desires a “White Hat,” the ultimate status symbol in Cheesebridge. Consistently denied of a hat, he decides to start a smear campaign against the boxtrolls so that he can kidnap and kill all of them, forcing the powers-that-be in Cheesebridge to finally award him his coveted hat.
Standing in Snatcher’s way is Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), a young boy adopted by the boxtrolls as a baby, and Winnie (Elle Fanning), the daughter of Cheesebridge’s most elite aristocrat (Jared Harris). As is typical with many children’s films, no adults will listen to our two heroes as they speak out in support of the boxtrolls, so they must take matters into their own hands.
The Boxtrolls is the third feature film from Laika Studios, whose previous two entries were the thrilling Coraline and the superb ParaNorman. While The Boxtrolls doesn’t soar quite as high as those two films, it comes pretty darn close. The animation is breathtaking, the boxtrolls themselves are lovely little heroes, and the theme of being true to oneself comes across as very honest. One big difference in The Boxtrolls is how the film deals with its monsters. In Coraline and ParaNorman, most of the monsters are to be feared; in The Boxtrolls, the boxtrolls themselves are established as friendly creatures right off the bat, with the film’s true monsters being humans. Named after the boxes they sport (Fish, Clocks, Wheels, etc.), the boxtrolls are a silly hybrid of Gizmo from Gremlins (kinda cute) and E.T. (bald and slightly wrinkly). They are also easy to root for, as Snatcher, along with his evil plan, makes for quite the delicious villain.
While The Boxtrolls may not be as dark as Laika’s other efforts, it still pushes the envelope further than most movies aimed at kids, which is refreshing. For example, two of Snatcher’s henchmen (Nick Frost and Richard Ayoade) suffer an existential crisis when faced with truly defining themselves as heroes or villains. The third henchman, voiced by Tracy Morgan, isn’t as thoughtful; he prefers hitting boxtrolls with a bat to debating the meaning of life. There are also plenty of scares and action in The Boxtrolls, in addition to a heart that beats firmly at film’s core.
The Boxtrolls takes care to engage the sympathies of the audience for its bevy of monsters-in-a-box. The first twenty minutes of the film are relatively dialogue-free, as the audience meets the boxtrolls and discovers their quirks and intricacies. This pays off, as the safety of these beloved little creatures becomes a central conflict. Winnie also serves as both a strong female lead and a source of relatable comic relief. She may be the only female in the film, but she is also the most memorable character. She deliciously revels in the mayhem around her, saying exactly what the audience is thinking at the moment.
As with all of Laika’s efforts, the animation in The Boxtrolls is lovely. Painstaking attention is paid to every minute detail, and while the film may have some disgusting content, it is still gorgeous to look at. (Stay after the credits for a very fun moment involving the Laika animators commenting on just what a tough job they have.) Rounding out the film’s production value is a zippy soundtrack by Dario Marinaelli.
The Boxtrolls is one of the best animated movies of the year. It is the type of movie that kids will love, as it involves thrilling action and relatable characters. More importantly, it is the type of movie that parents can take their kids to and leave the theater knowing that they probably enjoyed it even more than their little ones. Please never change, Laika. You’re doing everything so, so right.
Directors: Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi
Writers: Irena Brignull, Adam Pava (screenplay); Alan Snow (novel)
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Tracy Morgan, Richard Ayoade
Release Date: Sept. 26, 2014