The Boxtrolls (2014)

The Boxtrolls 3DIn the years since the mysterious disappearance of the Trubshaw child, the subterranean boxtrolls of Cheesebridge have been held responsible for his death and Archibald Snatcher tasked with their immediate extermination. Little do the townspeople know that the boy is alive and well, now renamed Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and living happily beneath their feet in what he believes to be his rightful place. Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), along with henchmen Mr. Trout (Nick Frost), Mr. Pickels (Richard Ayoade) and Mr. Gristle (Tracy Morgan), is making progress, however, and before long Eggs is watching his makeshift family dwindle into single digits. Determined to help them defend themselves, he dresses as a human and sets out for the surface where he encounters Winnie (Elle Fanning), daughter of the town’s mayor, Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), the leader of the White Hats tasting rooms of which Snatcher aspires to become a member.

Timeless isn’t a word you get to use very often in the world of animation. Even the so-called classics — Disney’s Golden Age or Pixar’s early years — are rooted in the moment, doomed to antiquity as audiences move on from one technique to the next, be it hand-drawn, computer-generated or motion-capture animation. Yet the term applies to Coraline, to ParaNorman, and now to The Boxtrolls. LAIKA is different to other animation studios; as Disney, DreamWorks and Pixar pursue pixel perfection, designing and then redesigning their technologies to produce ever-more realistic snowflakes, raindrops and blades of grass, LAIKA has side-stepped obsolescence completely by taking itself out of the race. Even Aardman and Ghibli look harried and try-hard next to LAIKA.

The studio’s films have always been more thoughtful, patient and subversive that its competitors’. There are no musical numbers, pop-culture references or flights of surrealist fantasy designed to pander to or placate the more impatient members of the audience, but rather a shared understanding that the filmmakers will share something special with those willing or able to wait. The Boxtrolls is perhaps LAIKA’s funniest film to date, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less scary, thought-provoking or emotionally intelligent. In fact, you are often invited to question the comedy; after all, should you really be laughing at a little girl’s blood-lust, a father’s negligence, or a henchman’s crisis of identity? Talking dogs and racing snails this ain’t.

Just as ParaNorman wasn’t really a film about zombies, The Boxtrolls has precious little to do with its titular tricksters. This is a film about ignorance, impotence and demonising the lower classes; the boxtrolls might not be human, but it is the townsfolk who are truly inhuman. Lord Portley-Rind can’t see passed his tasting room, to the detriment of his family and the town itself; Mr. Trout and Mr. Pickles spend so much time contemplating their culpability that they overlook their own redemption; and Archibald Snatcher is so obsessed with breaking into high society that he refuses to accept his own allergy to cheese. Below ground things are no different; Eggs is trapped by his own identity while his adopted family have mistaken cowardice for survival instinct. Evil isn’t the issue; weakness is.

There is as ever much to admire on the surface too. The animation is as exquisite as ever, with LAIKA’s trademark characterisation again proving that characters don’t always have to be cute to be beautiful. There is perhaps too much prologue, spent in the company of speechless boxtrolls and a babbling baby, but there is never a shortage of things to marvel at. Eggs is a delight, just as Coraline and Norman were before him, but in many ways Winnie is the more interesting character. She is the perfect juxtaposition of outer prettiness and inner perversion, and many of the biggest laughs come from her inappropriate obsession with the macabre. This time, however, the most memorable characters rank among the villains: Ben Kingsley channels Robert Helpmann to make Snatcher the 21st Century’s Child Catcher (now prone to cross-dressing and lactose intolerance), while Frost and Ayoade are an utter joy as Trout and Pickles (“I’m agreeing so as not to upset you”; “I’m still seventy percent sure that we’re the good guys”). And don’t even get me started on Tracy Morgan (“Leeches!”).

Up there with the year’s best 3D animated movies (on a par with How To Train Your Dragon 2, if not quite as crowd-pleasing as The LEGO Movie), The Boxtrolls is another towering achievement for LAIKA. It may not dominate the box office, or change the way that animated movies are made forever (or at least the next few months), but as long as it finds an audience and facilitates a fourth movie then directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi have done their job beautifully. After all, everyone knows that slow and steady wins the race.

4-Stars

 

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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