Under a terrified town, an orphan boy lives with the peaceful, trash-collecting Boxtrolls, who are being targeted for extinction by a cruel exterminator.
Graham Annable & Anthony Stacchi, 2014
The Boxtrolls are a race of trolls who wear boxes and live in a cave beneath the city of Cheesetown. The citizens of Cheesetown are terrified of these trolls because of an incident ten years earlier, when a little boy was seen to have been taken by the Boxtrolls. They are hunted by Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), a greasy exterminator desperate for the prestige of a white hat and sitting on the town’s council, eating the finest cheeses in the land. Council member Lord Portly-Rind (Jared Harris) neglects his morbid daughter Winnie (Elle Fanning, doing an American accent again for some reason), who is obsessed with the story of the Boxtrolls. One night she comes across a group of them, and something she doesn’t expect…a boy her age wearing a box of his own. Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) was raised among the Boxtrolls, and he must fight Snatcher to secure the creative creatures’ future.
I’m going to start with the disclaimer that I found this movie extremely unpleasant to watch. The whole design of the movie is kind of grimy and grey, with blue and orange skin tones. It works to evoke the Victorian-era England in which the story seems to take place. All of the stop-motion was done with care and it’s all very effective, it just made this viewer feels queasy. The worst offender of this was Archibald Snatcher himself, a greasy-haired, bloated man who has a couple of scenes that are particularly disgusting (and which could be hurtful to some viewers, I think. In fact, there are a number of really worrying things about the character on a number of levels). Technically it’s great. The music is good, everything is done meticulously and lovingly, and the two distinct above ground and below ground worlds are carefully rendered. The below-ground cave world of the Boxtrolls is a kind of steampunk haven. There’s a message in here about the upper and working classes, but I’m not sure how well it really comes across, given that the film’s villain is a middle-class working man who aspires to the upper echelons.
There’s some good voice work here, particularly from Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost, and Tracy Morgan as the villain’s trio of (white) sidekicks. Ayoade and Frost have wonderfully self-reflective, meta, deep conversations about the dichotomy of good and evil (one of which is odd, as it’s very funny but breaks the fourth wall beyond fixing and confused some kids in our screening). Eggs and Winnie are completely charming (even if you NEVER LEARN HOW EGGS LEARNED TO SPEAK ENGLISH and Elle Fanning is not the best choice to ever do a British accent). Eggs has a comedic, awkward party scene that might be the best thing in the movie, and Winnie’s take-charge attitude and morbid fascination are utterly, uh, winning. Which is good, because apart from her barely-scene mother, she’s the only female in the whole thing. This is very much a boys’ affair, with fathers touted as the child-raisers while mothers are curiously absent. The film lags in places, and I’m not sure who it’s for; the trolls are very much for little ones, but the kids and some of the humour are more targeted at the middle years (9-12ish). Overall it comes across as muddled; I think Laika’s particular stylings are better suited to a tighter story.
The Boxtrolls on IMDb