The Boxtrolls,
directed by Graham Annable & Anthony Stacchi
(Focus Features, 2015)

A homage to stop motion and a potential lovefest for Ray Harryhausen fans, The Boxtrolls, the third outing for Laika Studios, follows in the footsteps of Coraline and ParaNorman with a sweet, quirky, visually captivating story about a boy and his Minion-like trolls.

Although the movie may seem weird and rather grimy-looking, The Boxtrolls has a distinctive look. It's obvious, from the incredibly complicated props and handcrafted machinery, that a great deal of painstaking detail went into composing each scene. The Boxtrolls are a group of shy, harmless, cave-dwelling little trolls who have in their ranks an orphaned human boy, Eggs (after the carton in which he was found), voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright. The trolls are world-class tinkerers who scavenge broken machinery and repair them into incredibly complex, Rube Goldberg-style contraptions that make full use of all the glories of stop-motion techniques. The trolls are incredibly mechanically inclined but simple-minded, communicating in hisses and squeaks, living like turtles inside the boxes they find on the streets of the turn-of-the-century town under which they live.

It's the people of the town who can be monsters, especially the town's exterminator, a scheming Red Hat named Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) who leads a crew to find and destroy the trolls -- believed to be evil baby eaters -- all in order to gain access to the top tier of society, the White Hats. The White Hats, led by Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), do little else but sit around and inhale cheese all day. The one thing on which they all agree is that the trolls are evil and must be eradicated. That's when members of Eggs' family start disappearing. A chance encounter between Portley-Rind's daughter, Winnie (Elle Fanning), and Eggs, who went topside in order to find his missing foster father, introduces Eggs to the real world and to the realization that he is a human, not a troll. He also realizes what Snatcher's plans are and does his best to foil them in order to save his entire adopted family.

Playful, absurd and fantastically detailed to an extent that the visuals seem fluid and solid and three-dimensional all at once, there is an energy and conviction in this weird little tale that lifts it out of the areas in which it tends to get bogged down. Overall, The Boxtrolls delivers its message about not caving in to xenophobia and showing courage when you're frightened and all seems doomed. There's enough wit to soften the darker stuff, and there is a bit of that, but Laika has never shied away from more difficult themes. The dazzling set pieces are a visual feast that entertains the eyes when the story wears thin, though it's probably not for very young children.

review by
Mary Harvey

24 October 2015

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