Starring Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, and Richard Ayoade
Directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi
Run Time: 97 minutes
Opens September 26th
By Eric Forthun of Cinematic Shadows
Laika Studios has created some of the finest animated films in the last decade. Coraline explored the manner in which animation can tackle adult themes within a children's narrative while ParaNorman encapsulated how innovate and breathtaking stop-motion can be when employed in genre storytelling. The company has produced forward-thinking, imaginative, and brilliant stories that defiantly go against the computer-generated standards within the industry. Their streak continues with The Boxtrolls, a delightfully inventive work that excites through its sly, witty humor and effortless character development. Children's films do not need silly jokes every two minutes in order to supposedly appease the audience; instead, the filmmakers understand the impact that visually remarkable storytelling can have on any viewer, old and young, and how touching stories will create a deeper emotional impression than any spoon-fed, manufactured cinema.
The story revolves around a fateful night where Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) convinces an entire town that Boxtrolls are evil. He's a shifty, deplorable man that wants to elevate his class and become someone important in society. So he simply convinces everyone that Boxtrolls plan to steal everyone's children after Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) is taken from his home and never returns to human life. Instead, he's raised by the titular cave-dwelling trash collectors that nurture him like he's their son. They are compassionate, loyal creatures that don't speak a lick of English but communicate wonderfully with one another and enjoy the finer elements of the life happening right above them. Snatcher plans to exterminate the Boxtrolls in order to be accepted into the "White Hat" society within their town, which is comprised of four wealthy men that sit around, eat cheese, and feel great about themselves.
Poignancy always emerges within Laika's films. I'm not sure if it's the delicacy of the animation and the countless hours they spend creating every scene, or just the foundational developments that remain so wholly realized and unique. Snatcher is such a triumphantly exciting character, one that's both despicable and understandable. He has his weird quirks, including but not limited to dressing as a woman for burlesque shows and having a tragic allergy to all cheeses. Kingsley does an extraordinary job with the voice work, allowing the audience to get a semblance of his emotional core despite his generally spiteful, immoral actions. There's also a gleeful approach to the animation in terms of the cinematography on display; most animated films don't get recognized for their spacial work, but there are some gorgeous scenic shots and use of background/foreground jokes that I found hilarious. The supporting players bring a great sense of comedic timing too, with Richard Ayoade and Nick Frost providing a modern, dry twist on a variation of Laurel & Hardy.
There's a brilliant moment in the film's conclusion that might be one of the funniest and most striking moments ever in an animated film, since it cracks jokes about the filmmaking while simultaneously helping the audience visualize how much work goes into Laika's stop-motion. And while the film carries some flaws, particularly when it falls into traditional narrative trappings (like toying with the audience's emotion about whether central characters are dead when, in fact, they are most certainly not), the narrative always harkens back to its beautiful heart. There are strong, dark currents underneath the story, particularly explicit hints at racial/ethnic persecution (with imagery that may potentially suggest genocide), but the characters at the center care deeply about one another and want others to love as they do. The Boxtrolls is more than simple family fare: it's an exquisitely breathtaking, hilarious, and emotionally resonant triumph.