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September 26, 2014

I have and always will be a fan of practical effects. Yet, with each passing year it seems as if films are becoming more and more cluttered with unnecessary or uneven CGI, which is why I’m always delighted when people actually make things for a film. Now there is no practical effect in film that is more impractical than stop motion animation, but in some ways that’s what makes it such a wonder. Stop motion animation inherently possesses that ephemeral ‘movie magic’ that has entranced audiences for over a century.

Boxtrolls from the very talented production company Laika is, like their previous works Coraline and Paranorman, a stop motion film. It’s based on the book Here be Monsters! By Alan Snow that was released in 2005. Both the original novel and the film share that macabre charm that all children’s tales seem to have at their cores but was mastered and made popular by Roald Dahl.

Taking cues from Dahl, Boxtrolls is set in a vaguely British city in a time period that is most similar to a fantastical version of the Victorian era. At the start of the film, the eponymous Box Trolls flee into the night with a baby boy in hand. This kidnapping spurs the villainous and slimy Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) to lead a campaign of extermination against the trolls in exchange for becoming a member of the city’s nobility (the white hats) and being allowed into their cheese tasting room. The baby boy however, was not murdered or eaten as Snatcher says, but instead raised by the Box Trolls as Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright).

As the Box Troll numbers dwindle and Eggs grows into a young human boy, Snatcher and his goons finally capture his father-figure Fish. Unable to hide like a troll any longer, Eggs rushes off to save him, only to discover a nefarious truth at the heart of Snatcher’s schemes. Overall, it’s not a particularly unique story but it’s well executed and plenty of fun.

More importantly, the people behind the film clearly understand the plot’s simplicity and inject some self-deprecating humor about it through Snatcher’s henchmen Mr. Trout (Nick Frost) and Mr. Pickles (Richard Ayoade). The pair spend the movie questioning the nature of what their doing, the intelligence and sentience of Box Trolls, and the perception both they and others have of themselves. It’s a wonderful bit of meta humor that will probably go over the heads of younger children, but can certainly be enjoyed by the rest of the audience (especially the adults). The rest of the gags are thoroughly amusing though none of them are truly laugh out loud funny.

I will admit that the movie dragged a few times in its first half, but at no point did I actually feel bored. The lack of boredom is for two reasons. First off, the voice cast is amazing. Every line is delivered perfectly, the voices carry an appropriate emotional weight, and even the incoherent jabbering of the Box Trolls manages to have that Chewbacca quality where you start to convince yourself that you understand them. It is, of course, the animation itself that makes the film truly beautiful.

There’s more to Boxtroll’s charm than the fact that you know everything you see is real and being manipulated by human hands with painstaking precision. It’s the way the human characters are rendered in doll-like caricature or the fact that each one of the Box Trolls has their own distinct box (that also lends them their name). The fluidity of their movements is phenomenal, and the fact that the city is a fully realized world with all sorts of stuff in the background is something Laika should be proud of. Houses look distinct from each other, the costumes are carefully stitched and sensible, and even the little machines the Box Trolls build have this steampunk whimsy to them that reminds me of the contraptions in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. It all comes together to make something that is more than the seemingly simple story being told.

I would definitely suggest that if you have children or you’re a kid-at-heart, you should check out Boxtrolls. You don’t need to necessarily rush to the theater to see it, but keep your eyes peeled because you won’t be disappointed.


From → Movies

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