I’m not ashamed to say that I am a complete sucker for modern animation, as well as yesteryear’s classic animation. I love the medium, and find that when live action family films and comedy movies are lacking, which they have tended to do in recent years, you can get your mainstream giggles and heart-warming hope from these wonderful movies. Whether it’s Disney, Disney Pixar, Sony Animation, Dreamworks or elsewhere, there are always, year after year, plenty of great animated features for fans to sink their proverbial teeth into. In 2014 there were plenty of great animated films. Say what you will, but I count myself as a fan of many of them. The Book of Life was a colourful and beautiful looking story of life, death and family. The LEGO Movie was funny, clever and brilliantly written. How to Train your Dragon 2 improved on the excellent first film and delivered action and heart. There was one film from the genre, in 2014, that I missed out on though, one from the makers of two of my favourite recent films in the genre, Coraline and Paranorman. That film was The Boxtrolls. Now, in early 2015, I picked up the Blu-ray on its release and can review it now that I’ve seen it.
Directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi with a screenplay penned by Irena Brignull and Adam Pava, and based on the children’s book “Here Be Monsters” by Alan Snow, The Boxtrolls is animated in the same manner that the aforementioned Coraline and Paranorman were, with stop-motion style and character designs that are exaggerated and often creepy. There has been plenty said about the previous two films from this team about the dark and often pretty damn freaky concepts and visuals, and here, in The Boxtrolls, we see more of that. It isn’t a young kids animated film, and it does have some parts that would spook a couple of youngsters, but isn’t that part of the fun? I remember loving the scary stuff when I was a child.
The story is set in a towering and Victorian looking city called Cheesebridge, and we meet the cute goblin-like monsters who come out at night and loot the city of its discarded objects, taking them back to their underground cave-dwelling before the sun rises. The Boxtrolls, they are called, and they have a bad reputation in Cheesebridge. Due to the villainous Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), the trolls have been labelled as child eaters and killers and thieves who come out at night and eat you up. This information causes a town curfew and fear among the citizens of these actually-loveable and gentle box-dwelling creatures. The trolls themselves, we find, have also been raising an orphan child, who we come to know as “Eggs” due to his box being one labelled as such. The trolls, you see, take on the names that their boxes represent. From Fish, to Shoe, to Oilcan, and so-on. Snatcher wants to gain a “white hat” in the town, something that once donned, shows its wearer as someone of class, and allows them to enter “the tasting room”, a place where it’s members can eat the finest cheeses. The leader of this exclusive concept is Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), who is obsessed with cheese, and spends more time focusing on it than on his own daughter, Winnie (Elle Fanning). When Winnie finds herself in the layer of The Boxtrolls, and meets Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), she finds that The Boxtrolls are misunderstood, and the truth of Eggs the orphan is revealed. It is up to Eggs, Winnie and the trolls to change the minds of the citizens of Cheesebridge and stop Snatcher from capturing all The Boxtrolls, which he intends to do in order to gain the special white hat that he seeks.
It’s a crazy, silly yet captivating and cheerful story with elements of grim darkness. The tone is similar to the previous two titles from this team. It has plenty of humour, but mixes in some serious moments too, and looks at the underdogs as the heroes. The monsters aren’t the monsters here, but instead those who seek to harm the monsters are in fact the villains of the tale. It’s a cool concept, and personally I was completely hooked on the story, the animation and the characters. The response to the film has been mixed, but I am on the side of the fence that I was on with Coraline and Paranorman. I loved it. It was fun, it made me laugh, and it didn’t have a dull moment to it’s running time. I also found there to be some genuinely unsettling moments from time to time, which is something seldom seen in animated films these days, and something I miss, so I was happy to see it here.
The cast of voice talent is top notch, from the previously mentioned Kingsley, Wright, Fanning and Harris, as well as the likes of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan and others. They all throw themselves feet first into their roles, with the standouts being Jared Harris (Mad Men) and Ben Kingsley (Ghandi). They really do a magnificent job. The music works really well too, and the designs of the characters and the town of Cheesebridge is beautiful and weird and contorted. For younger viewers, like I previously mentioned, there might be some moments of being a bit on the creepy side, and some have said the film is uninspired, which I wholly disagree with. I had a blast with The Boxtrolls, and in my view it is deserving of its Academy Awards nomination for Best Animated Feature Film. It stands alongside The Book of Life and The LEGO Movie as one of the finest animated movies of 2014, for sure. Very nice.