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Boxtrolls, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Not Particularly Laikable"
3 stars

With its borderline grim storyline, offbeat sense of humor and decidedly British sensibility, "The Boxtrolls" is certainly far removed from most of the films aimed primarily at family audiences to emerge in the last few years. In theory, this is something I can fully embrace because I must confess to having grown more than a little weary with such things as of late--with the rare exception such as the wonderful "The Lego Movie," most of these films have proven to be little more than extended ads designed to sell crap to little kids instead of telling them original and entertaining stories. (Anyone about to write in asking why I have overlooked "Frozen" is gently advised not to on the basis that you presumably enjoyed that one a lot more than I did. In practice, however, I cannot quite get behind "The Boxtrolls" because while it is indeed a technical marvel that strives to do something different than the norm, it never quite seems sure of what it is it actually wants to do and invokes a lot of dark subject matter without having a clear idea of what it wants to do with it.

The conceit of the film is that in the town of Cheesebridge, there is a group of mysterious creatures known as Boxtrolls, presumably because they look like trolls and wear boxes. These things come out only at night--it turns out that they are terrified of humans--collect things that have been left outside that might be at use and then repair to their underground lair where they put their mechanical know-how to use. One night, for reasons that will eventually be revealed, they take a baby with them and the townspeople become convinced that they have kidnapped the "Trubshaw Boy," killing his father in the process, and have done something nefarious to him. Enter Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley), an ambitious rotter who, along with his three henchmen (Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost and Tracey Morgan) spreads horrible stories about the Boxtrolls and offers his services to eradicate each and every one of them in exchange for being given a white hat that will admit him into the town's elite circle and allow him to mingle with the bigwigs while sampling their collection of cheeses. Considering that one nibble of fromage inspires an allergic reaction that will remind some viewer of infamous gastronome Mr. Creosote, this particular desire makes little sense but who am I to argue with the likes of Archibald Snatcher?

As it turns out, the boy, now known as Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), not only fine but has been raised by the Boxtrolls as one of their own over the next few years, though he has yet to question why he looks so differently from the rest of them. One night, while foraging with the Boxtrolls, Eggs accidentally meets and befriends Winnifred (Elle Fanning), the fiesty young daughter of the eminent Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), and begins to realize who he really is. The two try to convince her father that Eggs is really the Trubshaw Boy and that the Boxtrolls are perfectly harmless but Lord Portley-Rind refuses to listen to them. The vile Snatcher, on the other hand, is all ears and steps up his plans for a final solution that will destroy the last remaining Boxtrolls and allow him to claim his prize at last. Will the Boxtrolls pull themselves together to save Eggs and Cheesebridge from Snatcher's depravations? Will Eggs have a happy but unexpected reunion with a figure from his dim, dark past? Will there be several speeches that underline the story's moral about the importance of family and the different ways that they can manifest themselves? Spoiler Alert--Yes, yes and quite possibly.

"The Boxtrolls" is the latest film from Laika, the studio behind "Coraline" and "Paranorman," two wonderful films that combined lovely stop-motion animation and a striking visual style with engaging characters and narratives that were smart, funny and contained surprisingly complex and thoughtful moral lessons for younger viewers to boot. This film clearly aims to do the same as its previous efforts but this time around, the formula doesn't quite add up. In adapting the children's book "Here Be Monsters" by Alan Snow, screenwriters Irena Brignull and Adam Pava have apparently discarded virtually everything but the Boxtrolls and instead stuck them into a storyline that seems to have been composed entirely of bits and pieces taken from other, better films and then infused with a grim subplot involving genocide that is simply too dark and heavy for the proceedings. (Don't even get me started with the moment when it appears that one character has beaten another to death with a wrench.) Although the stop-motion animation itself is lovely to behold, the visual style as a whole leans towards the blandly grotesque with none of the creepy charm that helped make "Coraline" and "Paranorman" so entertaining. Of course, it may have been the intention of co-directors Anthony Stacchi & Graham Annable to make Cheesebridge and its denizens just as weird as the Boxtrolls and their lair in order to underline the point that the two are more similar than they are different but it just doesn't quite come off that way.

The biggest problem with "The Boxtrolls" is that, in stark contrast to the previous Laika films, none of the characters are particularly interesting and as a result, I didn't particularly care what happened to any of them. Eggs is a fatally bland hero who never manages to generate any real audience sympathy or interest, Snatcher is an overblown and overbearing bore whose motivations for actions remain fatally blurred throughout and Winnifred is just plain irritating. And if the human characters here are disappointing, wait until you get a load of the Boxtrolls themselves. Here are a bunch of indifferently designed blobs with nothing to give them any semblance of individual distinction--their names come from the boxes that they wear and for all that we see of them, that is where they derive their personalities as well. The creatures have clearly been modeled on such audience favorites as the spacemen from "Toy Story" and the Minions from the "Despicable Me" films but generate none of their charm or humor. They are presented in such a faceless and indifferent manner that if Snatcher were to have produced a propaganda film extolling the need to rid the world of Boxtrolls, he could have hardly improved on the depiction of them presented here.

As I said, the stop-motion animation is gorgeous (and if you go to see the film, stay for the end credits to get a eye-opening look at that amount of work that it takes to produce such imagery) and there are a few elements here and there that are nifty--there are a couple of very funny gags here and there, a couple of amusing songs from Eric Idle and a ballroom dancing sequence that is a technical marvel. On the whole, however, "The Boxtrolls" is a queer misfire of a film whose best moments are ones that are more likely to be admired than loved and whose worst moments belie serious confusion about the kind of story that the filmmakers wanted to tell in the first place. Kids might like it--especially the icky parts involving bugs and slime and all that icky stuff--but probably won't embrace it in the way that they did with "Coraline" and "Paranorman" and the thick British accents are so pronounced that some may find it difficult to follow along with the story for a while. Adults are likely to be impressed by the effort that went into its making but indifferent towards the results and those with younger kids may be upset by the dark turns taken by the narrative. However, my guess is that regardless of age, all viewers of "The Boxtrolls" are liable to come out of it with the exact same thought going through their minds--a pronounced sense of relief that Odorama never quite took off

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25924&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/25/14 12:21:50
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Venice Film Festival For more in the 2014 Venice Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/01/14 Simon Strange and unsettling but that made it interesting. Charm's no be-all end-all 4 stars
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  26-Sep-2014 (PG)
  DVD: 20-Jan-2015


  DVD: 20-Jan-2015

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