DM Haight


The Boxtrolls is a cuddly little film by the creators of Coraline. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this unpretentious, kind-hearted adaptation of Alan Snow’s Here Be Monsters. I can’t say I loved the film. I actually fell asleep the first time I saw it. But the second viewing opened up a world of wonder, minute adventure, and fantastical villains with allergies to cheeses. The last bit was what made the film so damn special. In a world where wealth and status is achieved through certain white-colored hats, it seems only appropriate that their main desire in life, instead of being decisive about the town’s needs, is cheese. Perhaps brie is the cause of our current state of the union—but whatever the case may be, there is no denying the way Boxtrolls portrays cross-dressing villains as humorous and desirable; there can be no denying the edification of certain henchmen once they realize the errors of their ways; and there is certainly no denying the discovery of innocence through the act of biting. All these elements come together to construct a wholly different film than Laika has previously produced. With the creative narrative of Irena Brignull and Adam Pava, The Boxtrolls pulls out an impressive stop motion performance, unrivaled since Laika’s former releases.

Unfortunately the past releases are superior. The Boxtrolls suffers from a distinct lack of imagination. While the Boxtrolls themselves are well-designed, they simply lack the gusto that the mother from Coraline and the ghosts/zombies from Paranorman carry. The character designs were good, but not as good as what we’ve seen from the studio. The world, as a whole, is on par with everything Laika has put out there. The intricate designs of the post-Victorian village is wonderful, and even denotes a twinge of steampunk every so often. To put it simply, if the Boxtrolls themselves don’t do it for you, then the world they inhabit will certainly satisfy the need for an artful microcosm of inventive wonder.

Most enjoyable of the film were the voice actors, who seemed totally lost in the characters. As many know, the greater the celebrity, the more likely the mere use of your voice will suffice an animated endeavor. What is so special about The Boxtrolls is that the likes of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Tracy Morgan, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, and Isaac Hempstead-Wright all seem to blend in with the world they’re acting in. While the quasi-puppetry is happening on screen, the voices you hear, although a rarity of modern cinema, are the actual voices of the characters, and not the actors. Without giving away their identity, the cast of this special production have gone the extra mile in becoming their characters, instead of forcing the character to become them. It almost goes without saying that in the age of celebrity, it would be simple for the cast to phone it in. Luckily, Laika and directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi gave the actors the creative space to induce wholly new personas that helps redefine celebrity voice work.

Of course, the real star of the show are the animators. With such a complex work, it is only proper to give proper due to the animators who spent weeks working on mere seconds of film. Stop-motion is almost the exclusive process of Laika at this point in the game. It’s great, and yet disappointing. We very often get stellar work, but with only one company investing in the art form, we only get perspective. Outside of the occasional foray into stop-motion from Disney, there really is only one fish in a sea of computer animation. What they accomplish with The Boxtrolls is nothing less than an example of what can be done, and what is often left undone. I can only hope, for our sakes, that other companies attempt to do what Laika does, and begin fashioning more films like Boxtrolls, where children rise from sewers and bite other children to save their friends. That kind of imagination is leaving the hive mind of Hollywood. What is on our horizon? Are we going to see more narrative with astounding visuals? Or will we depart from the astounding to deal in the subpar? I sincerely hope Boxtrolls leaves us on the path towards the former.

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