Jan 5, 2015

[Movies] The Boxtrolls (2014)

There's always going to be a soft spot in my heart for stop motion animation. The art style has a unique character to it, or perhaps we can call it a distinct beauty that other movies never quite capture. All you need is a good story to make the most of what's available.

The Boxtrolls sort of came out of nowhere since it's not associated with the usual suspects when it comes to such stop motion animation ventures like Aardman Animations, the brilliant folks behind the Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep animated features. And this is a great thing since it means there are others who are still devoted enough to this increasingly archaic medium.

This movie was quite charming but I can't imagine it becoming a timeless classic or anything like that. But on the whole it's nice to see that Laika is committed to continuing to create such movies after past ventures including the movie adaptation of Coraline and ParaNorman.

Synopsis: The Boxtrolls is a stop motion animation movie directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi. The screenplay by Irena Brignull and Adam Pava based on the novel Here Be Monsters! written by Alan Snow.

The movie is set in the town of Cheesebridge that is awash in stories of secret monsters known as Boxtrolls that kidnap and kill young children. Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) and his band of pest exterminators then strike a deal to deal with the Boxtroll threat in exchange for membership in the city's exclusive cheese council, the White Hats. And thus they start their little campaign of hunting down all the these Boxtrolls throughout the city, much to Snatcher's delight.

But in truth, the Boxtrolls are pretty harmless creatures that derive their names from the boxes that they wear as clothes. They often venture out in the night in search of things of value to scavenge from the scraps and trash of the city. And among their number is Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), who is actually a human boy found by Fish (Dee Bradley Baker), who raises the boy as his own. The entire Boxtroll clan treat Eggs as family, although over time their numbers are diminished as more and more of them are captured.

At first, the very term "Boxtroll" is one that didn't exactly create any immediate imagery in my mind and I wasn't sure what to expect from this venture. But once they first appeared on screen with their unusual manner of using the boxes as immediate camouflage once they tuck in their arms, legs and heads into their box clothes, it all made sense. And despite their lack of actual dialog, they manage to carry a lot of the movie with their actions alone. Despite being "trolls" the Boxtrolls were actually quite adorable at times and each with their distinct personalities. It did take me a while to understand their names referring to the boxes that they were wearing - Fish's box more often looked like a necktie to me for some reason.

The animation quality was pretty fluid and that was hardly a concern in this movie. I think my only concern was the rather drab color palette that defined the aesthetics for this movie. Even the fact that Snatcher wears a ridiculous red outfit still wasn't enough to give a bit more flavor to things. And while I'm sure this was a conscious decision for one reason or another, I'd like to think that they could have indulged a bit in order to make the visual experience a bit more striking.

The overall story was simple enough and the conflict behind it was a little strange. And while we have the on-the-surface challenge of this being about Snatcher versus the Boxtrolls, there's this whole angle involving a lost "Trubshaw Baby" that gets introduced into the story out of the blue. I think I would have appreciated a bit more build-up in terms of how Fish found Eggs and how it tied to the Trubshaw Baby mystery. Instead we end up focusing on the Snatcher angle since that's what the movie first presents to us as part of the plot.

The irony of Snatcher being allergic to cheese and yet being determined to get into the White Hat council's cheese-tasting sessions was a pretty hilarious side to things. The visuals of Snatcher going through various allergic reactions to cheese were both comical and horrifying at the same time. And given the overall tone of the movie, it totally worked in terms of the overall narrative.

That begs the question if this is going to define Laika's projects moving forward. They seem to be focused on telling slightly scary stories or at least children's stories with a scary angle to them. I'm not complaining about this trend in their movies at all - just curious if this is a deliberate direction for the company.

The Boxtrolls is still a fun stop motion animation romp that is worth the time to see. It favors younger audiences more but it still has good humor for everyone to enjoy. Thus the movie gets 4 quirky Boxtroll-catching devices out of a possible 5.

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