MovieBob - Intermission
Laika's The Boxtrolls Is Good But Not Great

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 26 Sep 2014 16:00
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Released September 26th. Stars: Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Ben Kingsley, Elle Fanning, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Tracy Morgan. Directors: Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi. Produced by Laika. Distributed by Focus Features. The distribution company provided an advance screening of this film.

The Boxtrolls is a visual delight without a lot of substance... and that's okay.

The closest thing to an accurate capsule-description I can manage of The Boxtrolls is that it's sort-of like an animated, kid-friendly cross between Fraggle Rock and Clive Barker's Nightbreed from Laika, the stop-motion saviors responsible for last year's magnificent ParaNorman. If you recognize all three of those things and the combination appeals to you, Boxtrolls should be the easiest ticket you buy all year.

The film is an animated comedy-adventure, based (very loosely) on a childrens' novel called Here Be Monsters. Set in the cheese-fixated town of Cheesebridge (a vaguely-19th Century fusion of Swiss, French and Dickensian Britain), it focuses on a longstanding conflict between the town's human population and the Boxtrolls, a race of underground-dwelling creatures who use discarded cardboard boxes like turtle-shells and who've built a thriving sub-city of their own via a natural genius for repurposing "junk" thrown out by the wasteful humans.

The two races have never precisely gotten along, but as the film opens the tensions escalates when local ne'er-do-well Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) informs town leader Lord Portley-Rind that Boxtrolls have stolen away -- and likely devoured -- a Cheesebridge baby. Snatcher offers to set about the task of exterminating the "monsters," but on one condition: He wants to be admitted, despite his lower-class origins, to "The White Hats," the council of high-born locals who ostensibly "run" Cheesebridge but mostly hold "meetings" in Portley-Rind's exclusive cheese-tasting room.

But! However it is that the Boxtrolls came by a human baby, it turns out they've no intention of eating him. Instead, they raise "Eggs" (Boxtrolls are named based on their boxes, so "Fish," "Shoes," "Fragile," etc.) as one of their own. As it turns out, they're actually gentle creatures who instinctively hide inside their boxes at the merest hint of danger -- which, unfortunately, makes them easy prey for Snatcher's "Red Hat Exterminators." As ten years pass, their population is drastically reduced as Eggs grows up believing that he is simply a Boxtroll just a bit taller and less-flexible than the others... and also more prone to fight back.

When his adoptive father, Fish, falls prey to Snatcher, Eggs ascends to the surface world "disguised" as a human (a lot of the film's comedy is based on the ability/inability to disguise oneself -- including a major plot-point which I won't spoil). There, he discovers that Cheesebridge has built an entire holiday around villainizing Boxtrolls and memorializing the "murdered" baby, and also makes friends with Portley-Rind's delightfully-morbid, Boxtroll-obsessed daughter; who realizes that Eggs' existence can prove the whole decade of Troll-hate is based on a lie. Unfortunately, Snatcher has much more nefarious schemes at work...

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