The Boxtrolls

If Tim Burton produced A&E’s Hoarders, we’d get this. Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning, Jared Harris and Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley lend their voices to The Boxtrolls.

The BoxtrollsCast of Characters:
Archibald Snatcher – voiced by Ben Kingsley
Eggs – voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright
Winnie Portley-Rind – voiced by Elle Fanning
Lady Portley-Rind – voiced by Toni Collette
Lord Portley-Rind – voiced by Jared Harris
Mr. Trout – voiced by Nick Frost
Mr. Pickles – voiced by Richard Ayoade
Mr. Gristle – voiced by Tracy Morgan
Herbert Trubshaw – voiced by Simon Pegg

Director – Graham Annable & Anthony Stacchi
Screenplay – Irena Brignull & Adam Pava
Based on the novel Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow
Producer – Travis Knight & David Ichioka
Rated PG for action, some peril and mild rude humor

Underneath the streets of Cheesebridge live the boxtrolls – benevolent, cave-dwelling dumpster divers who have raised a baby boy they call Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright). Despite their peaceful way of life, the citizens of Cheesebridge, led by Lord Portley-Rind (voiced by Jared Harris), view them as frightening monsters, thanks to scare tactics drummed up by the evil exterminator Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley).

After Snatcher devises a plan to capture the boxtrolls, Eggs – with some help from the spunky Winnie Portley-Rind (voiced by Elle Fanning) – takes it upon himself to rescue them.

Brought to us by Laika, the animation studio that gave us Coraline and ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls is much more grim (for an animated film at least) and offbeat than what we’ve gotten from animated movies this year. This should come as really no surprise from the filmmakers that gave us those former two movies. Going into this with moderate expectations, this could’ve gone either way for me, but aside from a few moments dragging on longer than they should’ve, I highly enjoyed this.

It should be noted, to you parents, that despite it being an animated film, I really don’t see this as a film your little ones would be interested in. Not so much for the dark territory it sometimes ventures down (Kingsley’s Snatcher is quite the genocidal madman, which may frighten them), but more ’cause most of the humor relies on dry wit that might fly right over their heads (they might find the boxtrolls a mix of creepy, cute and amusing, though). Picture a claymation version of Monty Python. That said, there’s still enough quirky charm and heart to balance out the darker elements here that families with older kids could still find this fun.

In a day and age where digital animation is king, it’s rather refreshing to see a more practical, and highly painstaking, approach to animation. Not to take anything away from what the digital animators for Pixar and DreamWorks have been able to accomplish, but when you watch the animation play out and consider what it took to achieve that (a terrific dance sequence midway through the film, for example), it really is an impressive feat. It’s not a stretch to say the people working the characters’ movements (a post-credits sequence shows them in action) are just as much the star here as the celebrities they got voicing them.

Co-directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi and their team of animators have created a vividly imaginative world here within this small village that would make Charles Dickens and Roald Dahl proud.

If your kids do not know who they are, then a part of my childhood just died inside.

Although Annable and Stacchi, along with co-writers Irena Brignull and Adam Pava, follow the formula for most animated films, which typically lead to a big climactic action set piece, most of their dry humor and puns hit the mark. They’re also able to deliver the obligatory kiddie-friendly messages without the need to fall back on sentimentality or stand on a soapbox.

Although it’s not exactly an A-list cast (with the exception of Oscar winner Kingsley), the voice work is really good. Isaac Hempstead-Wright and Elle Fanning do fine work as Eggs and Winnie, respectively. Fanning, in particular, provides more life to her character here in just one second than she did with her entire performance in Maleficent. Jared Harris gets in a few good laughs as Fanning’s bourgeois, cheese obsessed father, and in smaller roles, Richard Ayoade and Nick Frost (frequent co-star Simon Pegg also has a small supporting role as well) are great as two of Snatcher’s bumbling, existential henchman.

Ben Kingsley, though steals the show. This man has a voice, delivery and acting gravitas perfect for an animated villain, and the fact that it’s animated gives him the freedom to go more over-the-top than normal. He’s firing on all cylinders here and it’s a deviously twisted and maniacally fun performance from him. He’s playing a dark character, that’s for sure, but Kingsley gives Snatcher enough humor to keep his darker edge from feeling out of place.

The boxtroll creatures maybe could’ve been better developed. Out of their total, about three or four were fully distinguished. I can’t complain too much, ’cause when you’re dealing with the number of creatures that they have, you’re bound to focus on just a few out of the bunch. That said, the world they live in is fascinating and I did find the relationship between Eggs and main boxtroll Fish to be very charming in its own uniquely odd way.

Not quite as good as Coraline, but on par with ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls is another unique and creative effort, featuring a talented voice cast, from team Laika. For those wanting to take a momentary detour from the pixelated world, this is a wonderful alternative for you. It’s odd, creepy, sometimes cynical and a just a touch off, but underneath it all, there’s an endearing and heartfelt quality that we’ve come to expect from Laika. They’re not at Pixar’s level yet, obviously, but they’re heading in the right direction.

I give The Boxtrolls an A- (★★★½).

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