Based on a book by Alan Snow, The Boxtrolls is the latest release from the makers of Coraline and ParaNorman, both excellent films with unique animation and more than enough of a dark side to be totally acceptable adult viewing at the same time. Boxtrolls is similar in this respect, but is it a worthy follower?
The film opens in the Victorian city of Cheesebridge, where we are introduced to the film’s antagonists, Lord Portely-Rind and Archibald Snatcher (Jared Harris and Ben Kingsley) discussing how to remove the city of the Boxtroll problem, Snatcher agrees as long as upon completion he earns a white hat like that of Rind’s (the ultimate sign of status in this society).
Soon we meet the elusive Boxtrolls and the rather un-troll like baby Eggs, the star of this tale. The trolls are harmless humanoid creatures in cardboard boxes rooting through people’s rubbish trying to find items of interest, their scavenging is interrupted however when Snatcher and his cronies burst in and capture them, with just Fish and Shoe escaping (the trolls are so named after what their box once stored).
The film uses the same stop motion style of animation as its forebears, though they have possibly peaked here – everything looks so good, the movement is fluid and everything manages to feel alive. The character models are incredibly detailed, and they all managed to have their own expressions and personality. The Boxtrolls for example, may not speak English, but they are identifiable by their box, and how each one behaves.
Character models are very exaggerated and somewhat grotesque, though this allows them to be quite unique and expressive, Egg for example can speak English (inexplicably, given none of the trolls speak it) but shows a lot of his emotion through gestures and expressions, there is a particularly amusing scene where he gets shown how to politely introduce himself, but takes the advice too literally (“Nice to meet you, even if I don’t really mean it”).
The characters themselves are generally decently done, Eggs (Isaak Hempstead Wright) is a fairly typical star, being honest and wanting the best for his friends, he’s also joined by Winnie (Elle Fanning) an stuck up rich girl, who is ignored by her parents and yearns for more. At first she’s fairly cold and haughty but soon warms to Eggs and his troll friends). Her father, Lord Portely-Rind, is very cold to her – almost to the point of being dismissive.
Something I took from this film is that, despite the cute posters and toy/merch lines available, I’m not sure this is actually a children’s film. It is quite dark in places, and the grotesque imagery (the aforementioned cheese bit is somewhat uncomfortable to watch) and dark atmosphere will doubtless prove quite scary for some children, as well as a few scenes that seem completely hopeless for our Eggs and his friends. There is little in bright colours and the locations are mostly dark and gloomy. Despite all this, there is humour, though – slapstick is frequent in scenes involving Boxtrolls and there is some witty dialogue between our two young heroes.
The film reaches a conclusion a little too quickly perhaps, with Snatcher revealing a rather unlikely method for seizing his white hat after Eggs manages to thwart his deal with Portely-Rind. It had been hinted at but seems somewhat far fetched. His actual downfall comes shortly after, and is suitably gross. The film ends happily, and it is worth sticking around for the credits as they are very well done, along with a short forth wall breaking bonus scene.
An enjoyable film, it’s something that kids will enjoy for the slapstick and cute Boxtrolls while adults can have no shame in watching for its great animation and refusal to compromise the dark aspects of the story.