Movie Review: ‘The Boxtrolls’

“The Boxtrolls,” the latest offering from the stop-motion experts at Laika Animation (the makers of “Coraline” and “Paranorman”), is not your average animated film. Based on the 2005 children’s novel, “Here Be Monsters,” this movie offers viewers an experience like no other.

Under the streets of the city of Cheesebridge lives a colony of creatures known as boxtrolls. They look like a mad scientist took Gollum and gave him the personality of the Minions from “Despicable Me” and the mind of an engineering major. The boxtrolls earned the name from using cardboard boxes as their clothing as well as their homes.

They have been forced underground by Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), an exterminator who has vowed to never rest until he has captured every boxtroll. He spreads stories around town about how the creatures are terrifying, bloodthirsty monsters.

Contrary to the rumors, the boxtrolls are peaceful and harmless. They’ve taken in a human baby that they’ve named Eggs, and for 11 years, they have raised him as one of their own, teaching him how to build machines out of scraps, make music and eat bugs. One boxtroll in particular, Fish, takes Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) under his wing and treats him like a son.

One night, while roaming the streets of Cheesebridge, Fish and Eggs meet Winnie (Elle Fanning), a girl who is obsessed with the horrific stories that she’s heard about the boxtrolls. Eggs befriends her, and Winnie teaches him how to survive in the real world. She also breaks the news to him that he is, in fact, a human being, not a boxtroll.

Meanwhile, Archibald Snatcher has ramped up his efforts to exterminate the boxtrolls. The boxtroll colony grows ever smaller, and eventually, Fish is captured. With the help of Winnie, Eggs goes up top to rescue his friends, and he learns that Snatcher is planning something sinister. Eggs must save the boxtrolls while searching for his origin and struggling to decide if he wants to be a boxtroll or a “proper boy.”

“Boxtrolls” is a beautifully animated film, transporting the viewer to a setting straight out of a Charles Dickens novel. This is the type of movie that needs to be seen multiple times for one to catch all the tiny details in the background. It’s easier to appreciate this film when one thinks about all the hard work that went into making it. In today’s CGI-saturated world, it’s refreshing to see a movie made with the painstaking method of stop-motion.

One of the greatest strengths of this film is the depth and growth of its main characters. Eggs has lived his whole life thinking he was a boxtroll, so when Winnie proves to him that he is a boy, he goes through an identity crisis.Winnie is a girl who has everything except a close relationship with her father. Archibald Snatcher is not just the bad guy. He’s a man who wants a white hat, a symbol of greatness in Cheesebridge that denotes one’s place in the town’s inner circle.

“When I destroy every last boxtroll,” he says, “they’ll make me the most respected man in town.”

Two of Snatcher’s henchmen, Mr. Trout and Mr. Pickles, struggle with whether they want to be the bad guys. Throughout the movie, they seek a chance at redemption.

The voice acting in this film is impressive, with Ben Kingsley doing an outstanding job of breathing life into the menacing Snatcher. Rising stars Isaac Hempstead-Wright (of Game of Thrones fame) and Elle Fanning interact nicely as Eggs and Winnie.

Some of the film’s best dialogue comes from Mr. Trout and Mr. Pickles (Nick Frost and Richard Ayoade), who engage in constant philosophical discussions, debating issues such as the duality of good and evil and the definition of a hero.

The movie is not without its faults, however. Winnie’s parents, Lord and Lady Portley-Rind, are as one-dimensional as a line and don’t add anything to the film. The talented English actor Simon Pegg is criminally under-used in this film, his role amounting to a few crazed words.

Clichés are present here, the biggest one being the idea that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. The ending will surprise no one, and the movie leaves some loose ends unresolved as the credits roll down the screen.

Although the movie is visually appealing, it is not for the faint of heart. As with most stop-motion films, “Boxtrolls” feels darker than the typical animated movie. It’s not as dark as the average Tim Burton film, but it’s no “Despicable Me” either. It has the slapstick humor that is prevalent in most animated movies, but this is not a cute film by any means. With bloodsucking leeches, rear boxtroll nudity and extreme allergic reactions to cheese, some viewers may find this film revolting.

Despite its flaws, this film is highly enjoyable. It’s quirky and funny, but most importantly, it’s unique. With so many movies today that seem to repeat the same formulas, this film is a breath of fresh air. Combining elements of British comedy, fantasy and steampunk, “Boxtrolls” steps out of the box and transcends the genre of animated comedy.

Jonathan Gallardo is a junior journalism major and sports editor for Cedars. He loves playing basketball and quoting Napoleon Dynamite. He hopes one day to play in the NBA.

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