There aren’t many valid reasons to dislike The Boxtrolls. That doesn’t mean I liked it.
Laika — the brilliant hands and minds who brought us the breathtaking Coraline adaptation as well as the serviceable Paranorman — brings us another stop-animation effort that simply looks fantastic. Even though The Boxtrolls didn’t thrill me like Laika’s other efforts, their animation efforts should be applauded at every opportunity. The Boxtrolls skillfully combines their chosen medium with hand-drawn animation and some carefully placed CGI. The technical execution of this movie is stellar, but it’s not enough to bring the entire movie up to snuff with Laika’s usual storytelling standards.
This is a film that I wanted to like (so hard) but came out disappointed. The film combines a sharp (if not wholly original, but what is?) story (based upon Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow) that splashes the audience’s feet with subversion ever so slightly. Sadly, Laika’s usual painstaking visual work is the only thing holding this production together. It barely does that.
The Boxtrolls functions as a parable that tells the tale of an oppressed minority, The Boxtrolls, a subterranean species who wear (you guessed it) boxes atop their hideously cute bodies. These are harmless creatures. You know, the monsters are the good guys, and the humans are generally clueless. The Boxtrolls reside under the town of Cheesebridge and mind their own damn business. Humans fear them and construct terrible tales of how they hunt and eat people. So humans hunt the Boxtrolls for no good reason except to set up a fight between good vs. evil.
Cheesebridge takes its name from the town’s main product, cheese. The town’s society is ruled by White Hats and, in particular, Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris, whose voice oozes elitism here). The fight against the poor Boxtrolls is led by Red Hat Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley), who dominates the entire movie. His overwhelming presence would be fun to roll with if he wasn’t simply a stock villain. As Snatcher is written, he swallows the whole script without being even remotely complex or interesting. Dude knows he’s evil and that the Boxtrolls are good, but it doesn’t matter. Must. Destroy.
Snatcher’s one-dimensional existence (if not his mission) would be forgivable if the story otherwise measured up. On its face, this tale is a little bit Dickensian with a lot of Monty Python-esque humor. It sounds great, right? Well, it falls flat. The characters aren’t riveting. The titular creatures don’t get enough playtime. Yes, that’s the main problem. There simply aren’t enough Boxtrolls in this goddamn movie. They’re active at the beginning during the story’s setoff. We learn how they thrive and survive. Then the story forgets about them for awhile and concentrates upon the boring-ass humans. Seriously, human characters dominate nearly every other movie. We finally get some potentially interesting creatures called Boxtrolls, and the movie doesn’t take advantage. It’s a cinematic crime, I tell you. And not very franchise-minded either.
Anyway, this film overflows with action and subplots even though it goes nowhere. Two young children, Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright) and the Mayor’s daughter Winnie (Elle Fanning), are sympathetic to the Boxtrolls. Eggs lives amongst the trolls and grows alarmed when his peaceful brethren keep disappearing. He encounters Winnie and finds her to be a willing conduit for his message. After loads of mayhem, the conflict is resolved in the most predictable way possible.
The Boxtrolls is certainly a revelation of visuals, although some of the stuff on display can get a little bit gross and isn’t for everyone. There is (SPOILER ALERT) a character who explodes. Because, you know, cheese. Mostly, this film provides stellar animation and some decent (albeit sometimes immature) humor with a story that has been told before in many superior ways. This is a Laika film, but it’s no Coraline.
Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She can be found at Celebitchy.