The Boxtrolls 

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UK Release Date 12th September 2014
Directors Annabel and Stacchi
Starring Frost, Adeoyade, Kingsley
Runtime 97 mins
Certificate PG
Reviewer Jo
Reviewed 1st September 2014

I took the middle shark to two events this weekend. One a theatre excursion, the other a trip to a screening of The Boxtrolls. One was a runaway success. One was an unmitigated disaster. Luckily for me The Boxtrolls was the success. Said infant sat quietly, on my lap, wearing 3D glasses for the first time and stayed still FOR THE WHOLE FILM. If I could give away parental Oscars, The Boxtrolls would get one. It delighted both of us with the  absurd and monstrous freakshow of a child’s film that it is.

 Loosely based on Alan Snow’s book ‘Here be Monsters’, The Boxtrolls is set in the Village of Cheesebridge. A village which is currently being terrorised by the evil, baby eating, blood drinking, bone crunching Boxtrolls. Now they have stolen the Trumpshaw baby and killed his kind inventor father! The terror. There is a curfew on the village and everyone is living in fear of the evil little creatures. Enter avaricious, malformed lowly Red Hat, Archibald Snatcher who has a solution – at a price. Snatcher wants to be a White Hat, the elite group of cheese eating snobs who run Cheesebridge; and a place at the cheese tasting table.  Lord Portley-Rind is one such White Hat and it is he strikes the deal with Snatcher. Along with his rather intelligent henchmen, Snatcher begins the mass snatching of Boxtrolls. Of course our, erm kind of cute, Boxtrolls are not the problem, they are harmless inventors - there is much more to this squalid tale than meets the eye. Enter Winnie, Lord Portley- Rind’s spirited tomboyish daughter who encounters Eggs, the mysterious boy who lives with the Boxtrolls, one night and whom discovers, to her great disappointment, that the myth of the evil Boxtrolls stinks worse than a ripe piece of Pont l’Eveque…..

The Boxtrolls is familiar Laika territory, on the outskirts of the norm and more than a little bit weird. In fact it’s a dirty, messy, stinky, bug eating world is Cheesebridge, and the people are even less attractive than the Boxtrolls. Personally I think that’s exactly how kids films should be instead of this sanitised nonsense one so often has to sit through. The look is a familiar one, with the favouring of the odd and grotesque means that it can’t help but be reminiscent of The Corpse Bride at times but that shouldn’t take away from it’s aesthetic appeal and individuality. These are great characters (Winnie for example is great role model for young girls) but it’s not a film that will appeal to everyone, certainly not some early reviews that I read where it was criticised for everyone being so, well, unattractive. Can’t a film for kids be hideous and fun – where would Roald Dahl be if that were the case? The Boxtrolls is bedraggled, begrimed, snotty, gruesome fun.  It’s like an animated pantomime in the best possible way. It’ll probably do well in the UK. We like that kind of stuff.

It’s when we get underground in the lair of the Boxtrolls that Laika really start showing off. An underground Ferris wheel slowly spins of clocks and other such things that the Boxtrolls have snatched off the streets string together with fairy lights and a giant slide that the Boxtrolls wheeeeeeee down as they return from escaping the clutches of Snatcher. It’s like a garbage wonderland and is beautifully executed.   We here at BS Towers are not huge fans of 3D, and for the rest of the film I could take it or leave it to be honest, but it is in this Boxtroll world that it is simply magical. 

The attention to detail throughout the film is simply stunning. Stop motion mostly with a bit of CG thrown in, large doors and long faces loom out of the screen. A party scene where Eggs lack of human understanding results in a chase with Snatcher’s alter ego, Madame Frou Frou, is tremendous fun and probably took about 6 months to do. There are lots of little nod/wink adult jokes thrown in and nice little touches everywhere – look out for the one man band. 

It’s an eclectic voice cast assembled here and its all the better for it. Jared Harris is fantastic as cheese obsessed neglectful father, Lord Portley Rind and I loved the double act of Richard Adoyade and Nick Frost as the hefty henchmen with brains philosophising over good and evil, at one point they ponder if the Boxtrolls understand ‘the duality of good and evil’ and progressively question their actions more and more. Total contrast to the hulking/evil forms they take on the screen. Ben Kingsley has done an audible Sexy Beast in that his voice is totally unrecognisable, I thought for a long time it was Tim Spall. Kinglsey’s performance is over the top and ludicrous but he pulls it off and his Snatcher is a guttural, growling gorilla of a man. Elle Fanning handles feisty Winnie nicely and is well matched with Game of Thrones’ Isaac Hampstead Wright. Finally the lovely Simon Pegg gets to shout ‘Jelly’ a few times.

A tale of fathers and of prejudices The Boxtrolls but it didn’t feel too preachy. The fathers in question, one is neglectful and one is absent then a third surrogate father is a Boxtroll. Both human fathers make amends and the Boxtroll just carries on being a Boxtroll, he wasn’t pretending to be anyone anyway. 

My one criticism of The Boxtrolls would be that we are hurtled into the story somewhat abruptly and it took quite a while to settle down and get an emotional handle on the characters. Some more backstory on all of the characters would have been better. I still really have no idea about the Boxtrolls and who they are or what they want. I was actually a tad confused for the first ten minutes or so and wondered if I’d had one of those moments when you are driving and then realise you’ve been at the wheel for miles and can’t remember any of it. Spooky. Anyway it wasn’t a temporary cinematic blackout, it was screenwriters Amanda Brignull and Adam Pava not taking enough time to get ease us into the story. Maybe on another day, in a bad mood, that may have been enough to put me off the movie. Maybe some people may take a while to engage and so decide it’s not for them but despite this misfire at the beginning it’s well worth sticking around for; by the end of The Boxtrolls this strange little world is captivating and charming. If a little grubby.

Check out the trailer here.

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