CINEMA RELEASE: THE BOXTROLLS
Release date: 18th September 2014
Director: Graham Annable & Anthony Stacchi
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Elle Fanning, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Jared Harris, Toni Collette, Tracy Morgan
Classification: PG (Mild Themes and Violence)
Utilising the same stop-motion technique as ‘Coraline’ and ‘Paranorman’, ‘The Boxtrolls’, the third feature from Laika Animation, is a similarly grotesque and unique animated outing that skews the cuteness of Disney for something darker and less-child friendly. Kids are still likely to flock to this, though I suggest parents proceed with caution as this is by far one of the more bizarre and kinetic film experiences this year with it taking a good 30 minutes or so before it settles into some kind of cohesive groove.
Adapted from the British fantasy novel ‘Here Be Monsters!’, the film sets itself up in the town of Cheesebridge, named as such due to the dairy product acting as a class separation between the richer “White Hats” community and the lesser “Red Hats”, where a series of fluro-eyed creatures roam the streets at night, snatching anything they can get their hands on to return to their home in the sewers. Said creatures are known as Boxtrolls, their name deriving from their choice of cardboard box attire, and it’s the fear they have roused in the townspeople that has united all classes together in a bid to wipe them out. Leading the charge in eradicating the Boxtrolls is the truly detestable Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley), a slimy “Red Hat” who has spread rumours about the Boxtrolls in an attempt to gain enough trust to earn him a place amongst the “White Hats”; their leader, Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), not much more of a saint either with him caring more about his precious cheese collection than his own family.
With a premise that sounds like Roald Dahl by way of Tim Burton, ‘The Boxtrolls’ initially hits its viewers with an overwhelming sense of ugliness – I wouldn’t be surprised if children are put off cheese for a good while too – and it’s a shame that the film takes so long to set up the story it so clearly wants us to invest in. The Boxtrolls themselves are cute creatures, and their Ewok-type dialogue to one another is reminiscent of the Minions’ interchange in the ‘Despicable Me’ features, but as we never truly learn why the humans are so fearful of them (the long-standing rumour of them devouring children was put in place after their existence, so that can’t be the catalyst) the eventual reconciliation between them doesn’t hold as strong an impact as one would expect. Similarly the main character of Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), an orphaned boy raised by the Boxtrolls, who spends the bulk of the film hoping to convince the townspeople of their kind nature, doesn’t manage to evoke much sympathy from the audience, and his cohort Winnie (Elle Fanning), daughter of Lord Portley-Rind, is a little bit too precocious to be truly likeable.
Ultimately though it’s not that ‘The Boxtrolls’ is a bad film, it’s just particularly underwhelming when you consider the remarkable features that came before; ‘Coraline and ‘Paranorman’ were such singularly spectacular accomplishments that it’s hard not to feel a little disheartened here. Animation-wise it’s a joy to view with the stop-motion technique a refreshing change of pace from the CGI animation we’ve come to know as the norm, and the vocal cast is particularly stellar with the likes of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Toni Collette all lending their chords. ‘The Boxtrolls’ does display the ability to be both grotesque and charming, and it’s always welcome when younger audiences aren’t pandered to but at the same time a family-friendly mentality goes a long way.
My rating: 3/5