REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER/For 21st Century Media
You may be scratching your head, wondering what exactly a boxtroll is. The children’s book, “There Be Monsters!,” introduced this subspecies of the generic troll. Imagine gnarly-looking creatures, who don cardboard boxes as their customary garb. They’re not exactly the cute, cuddly creatures one might expect in a family film.
The film’s boxtrolls live underneath the Victorian town of Cheesebridge (dubbed Ratbridge in the source novel). Although boxtrolls are scary looking, they are deeply afraid of humans.
Nevertheless, every night, the boxtrolls venture aboveground. They snatch anything that isn’t tied down and drag it down below. They are particularly obsessed with scavenging discarded metallic items, then deconstructing them, and reassembling the component parts into inspired creations. These contraptions make it seem as though the boxtrolls are channeling Rube Goldberg.
One night, the boxtrolls bring an orphaned human infant back underground with them. They name the child Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright from “Game of Thrones”) after the egg-carton which he wears. Apparently, it never occurs to Eggs that he isn’t a boxtroll. He blissfully spends his days, playing with his best friends, Fish (Dee Bradley Baker) and Shoe (Steve Blum).
The society of Cheesebridge is rigidly class demarcated. The White Hats, led by Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), are a bunch of effete aristocrats. He and his poncey chums, Sir Langsdale (Maurice LaMarche) and Sir Broderick (James Urbaniak), spend their evenings sitting around cheese-laden tables and savoring their pungent contents.
Archibald Snatcher (Bern Kingsley) is a pest exterminator. He cites the purported kidnapping of the Trubshaw baby to whip up public frenzy against the boxtrolls. He offers his own humble services to rid the town of the demonized subterranean entities. The White Hats easily succumb to Archibald’s hyperbolic rhetoric. Will Lord Portley-Rind’s young daughter, Winnie (Elle Fanning), be able to convince her father and his White Hat colleagues that Archibald is scamming them?
“The Boxtrolls” is the latest product of Laika. The studio, based outside of Portland, Oregon, has honed the use of stop motion animation. In 2009, “Coraline,” became their first stop motion release. They subsequently made “Paranorman,” which was nominated for an Oscar and BAFTA in the animated category.
While speaking as part of a panel at the San Diego Comic-Com ,Ted Knight, the President and CEO of Laika, revealed that his studio had been working on “The Boxtrolls” for a decade. In reference to “Here Be Monsters!,” he bemoaned, “It’s this 500-page book. It’s like a phone book. We somehow had to distill the essence of that down to a 90-minute movie.”
The novel, written and illustrated by Alan Snow, includes over five hundred black and white illustrations, which were originally executed in pen and ink. It is clearly the product of someone, who is consumed with translating his creative vision into a form that could be shared with others.
The film version also has the feel of being a labor of love. I appreciate the fact that “The Boxtrolls” represents the work of a team committed artists, who expended years of their lives to this project. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Irena Brignull and Adam Pava fails to provide a dramatic trajectory worthy of their splendid imagery.
“The Boxtrolls” is intended to be a family film. However, parents would be well-advised to carefully consider whether the film is appropriate for their younger children. The visual content and concepts contained on “The Boxtrolls” are likely to frighten pre-schoolers. Even older children may struggle with the film’s tone, which might be best described as unrelentingly cynical.
“The Boxtrolls” boasts a meticulously-crafted visual text. This is augmented by wonderful vocal talent, which also includes Toni Collette, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Richard Ayaode, and Tracy Morgan. Unfortunately, the individual scenes, so stunning in their look, have a distinct lack of synergy.
As a consequence, “The Boxtrolls” is a quirky animated film in search of an audience.
**1/2 PG (for action, some peril and mild rude humor) 97 minutes
Nathan Lerner welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.