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Review

‘The Boxtrolls’ fails to meet lofty expectations

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October 10, 2014

Another stopmotion feature film out in theaters is a refreshing sight to see. “The Boxtrolls,” while being an enjoyable film, is still a far reach from the past works done by its production studio.

They’re disgusting, they’re evil, they will eat your young; they are the boxtrolls–the mysterious creatures that live underground in the city of Cheesebridge. Nobody knows much about them except the legends about how they snatch a child to devour. However, that child didn’t get eaten. Rather, that child is living amongst his kind and gentle boxtroll brethren, trying to make a living for themselves.

The Boxtrolls movie poster.
The movie “The Boxtrolls” is based on the novel “Here Be Monsters!” by Alan Snow.

Despite this, a vile catcher of boxtrolls wants to bring down their boxed-in haven and claim his fame, and this one human boxtroll, by the simple name of Eggs, will need to muster up his courage to find a way to end the fear and begin his journey to find his origins.

“The Boxtrolls” fascinated me as a fan of film animation. It was a thing of beauty in the trailers and production videos. Seeing each character model in the film moved around in expressive and atmospheric ways touched me a bit. This was something that could only be handled by someone with the utmost love for their craft. It was a film that I had to get a look at. I can say it succeeded in all things animation, but I could have asked for a bit more in the writing department.

Talking about “The Boxtrolls” automatically brings up its production studio: Laika. Laika is a special kind of animation studio. It goes for the stop-motion animation you see in “The Boxtrolls.” It balances animation and good writing with finesse. “Paranorman” was the film they released before “The Boxtrolls,” and that movie not only wowed its audience with fine stop-motion animation, but also with its fine writing. It weaved themes of fear guiding hatred, reason over groupthink, and even sneaking in a homosexual character. That move surprised me. Throw in good jokes and you’ve got yourself a good Laika film that brings its child audience to the edge of darkness then guides them through with a light in its hands and a wit on its tongue.

“The Boxtrolls” gets one of Laika films criterion right. Animation wise, “The Boxtrolls” is well-crafted, featuring excellent art direction with its Victorian Era styled setting and its steampunk elements. Character models express a wide range of emotions that sync well with their voice actors and the lighting and direction is fast paced and entertaining as ever. That’s all fine and dandy, but where “The Boxtrolls” loses me a bit is its writing. Audiences were given so much more from the plot of “Paranorman” when they went to see it as it dealt with issues you wouldn’t normally see in a mainstream kid’s movie.

“The Boxtrolls” feels very safe compared to “Paranorman.” Its themes are a lot simpler, its jokes a bit safer for kids, and its storyline is fairly straightforward. I never felt like I was being taught something new or being taught an original lesson in “The Boxtrolls.” As a result, I felt oddly disappointed. Laika taught me before that it can be so much more than just pretty clay models and cool set design, and I felt this film of theirs wasn’t quite up to the standards it set for itself. Not that this was the only problem with the film; some scenes don’t transition very smoothly and quite a few jokes don’t make the cut.

Though I don’t want to say it wasn’t fun, which it certainly was. Despite the problems it faced, I still enjoyed watching “The Boxtrolls” with its quirky trolls and characters. I was entranced by the world that was created and still think every kid should see this movie, if only because the stop-motion animation is a superb and loving film craft that should be enjoyed by everyone. I just wish this package by Laika could have seated itself deeper in my heart by just a little more.

Ryan Funes is a lover of all things movie, TV, video games and stories and wants to become a television writer someday. In his spare time he enjoys hanging with friends, tapping into his imagination, and watching cartoons of all kinds.

Comments

Irving Isiah on 12 Oct 2014: great review. I also walked away from boxtrolls disappointed on a number of levels, mostly to do with the writing. There was little inspiration for the audience to find. I had little empathy for any of the characters. They were shallow and cliched, had no arc to speak of - and as for motives? Illogical and trivial, to the point of being insulting to audiences of all ages. The villain's motive was illogical and far too simplistic, even for a young audience. The boxtrolls were one dimensional personalities and over stereotyped, were bland and had no arc throughout the story - their sudden change was unrealistic and insincere. The henchmen were dim witted and experienced a near instantaneous transformation that defies logic or belief. I certainly wouldn't say this was as dumbed down as other similar offerings at present (eg. Planes), but it was a noticeable letdown from Paranorman, which was very clever by comparison. Rating: 5/10 - hire on video if you have a spare night. Expect a combination of shock to keep audiences on their toes and an ensemble of weakly defined characters.