Film Review: The Boxtrolls (★★★)

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boxtrolls_ver13There’s undeniably something unique going on with Laika, the production house that previously has brought us Coraline and ParaNorman. This time out, I’d say they’re at their weirdest with The Boxtrolls, another stop motion animation effort that will certainly have its share of hardcore fans. By the same token, I wonder if younger audiences will be confused by some of the oddities on display here. Directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi combine with writers Irena Brignull and Adam Pava to adapt the novel “Here Be Monsters!” into something that both will be family friendly and also something ever so slightly subversive. They also have quite an eclectic voice cast here, including big names such as Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Elle Fanning, Tracy Morgan, Nick Frost, and Simon Pegg, as well as Isaac Hempstead-Wright in the main part. Though hardly as iconic as The Lego Movie, this is the sort of animation that isn’t easily set aside. The plot of The Boxtrolls may not be anything really to write home about, but individual jokes, the odd tone, and a delightful conclusion that actually shows you some of the stop motion work that goes into all of this really shows the charm of the movie. The Boxtrolls will certainly appeal to any Laika die hard, so if that’s you…prepare to be thrilled by this one.

As mentioned above, this is an adaption of “Here Be Monsters!”, but if you’re like me, that won’t mean much. Regardless, the story surrounds an orphaned boy named Eggs (Hempstead-Wright) who winds up being raised underground by a very unique species…creatures known as Boxtrolls (yes, basically trolls in boxes). They raise him subterraneanly beneath the streets of Cheesebridge, a town that has a deep love of a certain dairy product that you probably can guess. After a period of time, Eggs decides that it’s time to go above ground and, as they call it, “into the light,” where he meets and becomes friends with Winnifred (Elle Fanning). At the same time, the villainous Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley) sets out to exterminate the Boxtrolls, leading Eggs to have to become a hero. Along with Winnifred, Eggs tries to save his very unique family. It’s kind of a standard issue animated storyline, but the quirk that you see throughout is fairly unique, from the cheese jokes to the almost Monty Python like vibe that goes through it (including an end credits song from Eric Idle), making for a viewing experience that’s hardly run of the mill. I can’t help but feel like Laika lovers will particularly enjoy. It’s somewhere between Coraline and ParaNorman.

thumbnail_12444I found the voice cast to be uniformly solid, but I will say that no one particularly blew me away. Isaac Hempstead-Wright is our hero, but his voice isn’t amazingly distinguishable. He’s fine, but you won’t fondly remember his work. I’d say that Ben Kingsley is the highlight, and it’s an inspired performance for sure, but I’m not as over the moon for it as some. Still, Kingsley is very amusing here, no doubt about that. Elle Fanning is a bit underused, with most everyone in the cast basically being a cameo to one degree or another, save for Jared Harris and Toni Collette. The other voice actors include Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost, Tracy Morgan, Simon Pegg, Dee Bradley Baker, and more. They all pull their weight and do their part, but their work isn’t what makes this successful. They certainly don’t hurt the production any, but there aren’t any towering bits of voice work to speak of. Kingsley is the best, but I just wasn’t taken by the performances in any truly notable way.

Directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi have a clear style to their work, one obviously indebted to stop motion works of the past. Annable and Stacchi’s direction actually combines nicely with the adaptation written by Irena Brignull and Adam Pava, making something ever so slightly twisted. Personally, ParaNorman worked a bit better, but Brignull and Pava have a few moments that really make you chuckle. The humor is a touch dark at times, but this is by and large family friendly. I don’t have any real complaints of note here, but the product on the whole just struck me as being good, not great. Count it in for a Best Animated Feature nomination though, no doubt about that. I don’t think a win is in the cards, but anything is possible, I suppose. It could also contend for Best Original Song, but that’s a crapshoot, as we all know.

Overall, The Boxtrolls is pretty amusing and another success for Laika. If you’ve enjoyed the production company’s prior works, this will do it for you once again. Folks seeking to see the prospective Best Animated Feature nominees would do well to check it out, as a nomination at the Academy Awards seems like a safe bet. Above all else, The Boxtrolls is unique.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!