Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for Action, some Peril and mild Rude Humor
Directed by: Graham Annable & Anthony Stacchi
Written by: Irena Brignull & Adam Pava
(based on the novel HERE BE MONSTERS! by Alan Snow)
Voices of: Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan & Simon Pegg
Computer graphics have really put a damper on other animation styles. The last mainstream traditional hand-drawn film I can think of was 2009’s PRINCESS AND THE FROG and the last wide released stop-motion animated film I can remember is 2012’s PARANORMAN. For this reason, I can easily find myself getting hyped up for any upcoming stop-motion film that promises to have a bit of potential. Having waited for nearly a year to see THE BOXTROLLS, I can safely say that it’s a unique fairy tale that strays into some risky territory for children but never fully loses the sense of whimsy around it.
Bearing little resemblance to the children’s novel on which it’s based (which featured many different creatures and magical plot developments), THE BOXTROLLS follows a boy named Eggs. Eggs has been raised since he was a baby by underground-dwelling creatures known as Boxtrolls. These monsters are appropriately named because they are indeed trolls and do wear boxes for clothing. When the grotesque Archibald Snatcher begins fear mongering about the petty-thieving creatures living in the sewers, it appears that Eggs and his ragtag family of Boxtrolls may be in trouble. It’s up to Eggs to venture to the upper world, where he befriends the young neglected Winnie, trying to stop Snatcher’s plan that might mean the end for Boxtrolls and humans alike.
BOXTROLLS is one of those rare cases where simplifying the plot and significantly changing things up from book to film works far better in the cinematic medium. The story is full of imagination and complex in unexpected ways. The movie has a lot of creepiness, gross details, and dark humor that might make it a little iffy for really young children. Some of the best family films are the ones that take risks with on-the-surface family friendly material. To add a stroke of awe to the pretty original story is that the film looks beautiful. This is some of the best stop motion animation I’ve ever seen and it sucks you into the world on-screen. The character design of the villains in particular is fabulous and everything moves smoothly as if it were actually alive. Clearly, a lot of effort, time and love was thrown into this project and it’s wonderful to see it all turn out so well.
Plenty of talent is thrown into the vocal performances as well. Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Richard Ayoade play secondary characters and I couldn’t necessarily point of who they were while watching the film. It’s nice to see celebrities doing voice work that doesn’t necessarily distract the audience to spot them in the film. This can especially be said of Ben Kingsley as the main bad guy, who uses a deep gravely snarl that makes it nearly impossible for the viewer to recognize him. The only two that I did automatically notice (though that isn’t a bad quality) were Jared Harris as an upper-class royal (the character looks remarkably like him as well) and Elle Fanning as the constantly misunderstood child Winnie. Relative newcomer Isaac Hempstead-Wright is also compelling as Eggs. It helps that none of these characters are quite initially who they appear to be. Though the good guys remain good and the bad guys remain evil, there’s a little spin on each character by the conclusion.
The problems I do have with BOXTROLLS are a few predictable moments and some muddled pacing. As solid as the prologue of Eggs being raised by the Boxtrolls is, the opening takes a little while to get fully going. Once momentum is built, the story rarely lets up on laughs, imagination and fun. However, there are a few scenes that are clichéd in ways and it doesn’t take a genius to see where things are heading. The most guilty of these moments is the stretched-out ending. It felt like three different conclusions were taking place. Though I don’t necessarily dislike where the film went (especially what happens to the villains), it almost felt like the screenwriters wanted to do too much at once.
Despite this crack in an otherwise nearly great fantasy, this film is highly enjoyable for all ages. Full of colorful characters, a creative story, risks that you might not expect, and beautiful animation, BOXTROLLS is very much recommended for anyone of any age who is interested in dark fairy tales. Also, you’d be hard-pressed to find more lovable creatures on film this year than these box-wearing underground-dwelling trolls.