This isn’t the first time I’ve given high amounts of praise to the animation studio Laika Entertainment. In my first year of reviewing, I named ParaNorman the fifth best movie of 2012, a feat that is especially impressive considering what a competitive year for film that was. It took on ambitious, challenging topics in a way that was original, bold and poignant and between the art style, the characters and the moving messages, it wasn’t just an example of everything animation or kid’s movies should be, it was an example of everything cinema should be. With The Boxtrolls, I don’t believe Laika captures something that is as good as ParaNorman, but I do think this movie is still great enough to signify that Laika isn’t just a flash in the pan and they are possibly the boldest group working in animation today.
In the town of Cheesebridge, a group of trolls that wear cardboard boxes live beneath the city while the upper class eat tons of cheeses and look down on everyone. After a baby is “stolen” by the boxtrolls, the town hires a madman to do the dirty work of capturing and exterminating them. However, the boxtrolls are really, very nice and the boy grows up like them and goes out into the world of above to prove to everyone with the help of an imaginative girl that the boxtrolls are not evil.
The animation by Laika continues to be as incredible and brilliant as ever. The world they create for this movie is incredible; the absolute detail of every character, every house, and every sequence is an amazing work of art. Laika designs a place of storybook wonder that is easy to become taken into to. The 3D is beautiful and every second I was engaged because of how inventive and original the creation was. I can’t fathom the amount of work that went into the animation style and the hours spent on the movement and design of everything. Laika raises up how a picture can tell a thousand words, every moment of the film was bursting with the detail, emotion and ambition. There are large segments where they don’t talk and it truly works because the artists are so good at what they do that they can get across a lot of emotion and passion even while saying very little. And it’s not just incredible animation; the movie has an adventurous score by Dario Marianelli and the movie is extremely well paced, I was never bored but it also never felt rushed like The Lego Movie where it’s hard to get invested in what’s going on. This is one of my favorite forms of animation and The Boxtrolls might be one of the most stunning versions of this art form to date.
There is not a single voice actor who was bad. Ben Kingsley does a perfectly, creepy job of portraying Archibald, the villain of the story, a man who is willing to brutally murder a child to become a part of the higher ups. His character would rather die than not become accepted into the fancy, upper class he fantasizes over. For his first lead role, Isaac Hempstead Wright gives a very natural and impressive vocal performance as Eggs, the child protagonist of our story. I don’t think Eggs is a good a character as Norman but he is still a very likable person who you want to see succeed and his revelation of who he is in the final act serves as a great conclusion to a story arc. Richard Ayoade and Nick Frost are hilarious as Archibald’s two henchman and they do a really good job with some of the best lines of the whole movie. They got together a great cast to perform a set of very interesting and unique characters.
In some ways, I think The Boxtrolls has a really good screenplay. The movie is often hilarious in that sort of British humor way. There are a lot of cheese puns, a lot of wit and a surprisingly successful amount of satire. As I have stated above, the characters are all memorable in their own ways and they all has interesting, sympathetic story arcs.
My main problem with the movie was pinpointing what it was trying to get across. I don’t ever feel as though any of what it was doing was done poorly and it wasn’t that it was rushed rather it was saying so much that it felt less like a clear, strong message and more like a lot of strong bits and pieces that don’t resemble much at the end. The movie never really seems to cling on to some meaning that resonates in a powerful way and it’s because of that sloppiness that I can’t say the movie lives up the expectations I had for it due to ParaNorman. That being said, the movies screenplay and art style feels so good that it still feels as though it’s very genuine despite. The Boxtrolls isn’t a train wreck so much as a well written and beautiful looking movie that never seems to fully figure out what is trying to accomplish. Even if the movie is a mess, it still feels very impressive to watch because of how creative and expressive everything is.
Regardless of message, this is the movie that they wanted to make and I feel like I just watched the full product of the artist’s imagination and in a world run by studios running the creative process, that’s very impressive and exciting to see. The Boxtrolls much like the other two Laika movies don’t speak down to its audience despite technically being kids’ movies; the movie trusts the intelligence of its audience and gives them something exciting and sometimes a little bit profound. It’s weird that this kid’s movie actually has more respect for its audience than some R rated movies I’ve seen. I think that’s the magic of The Boxtrolls and Laika itself, it’s a creative, meaningful world that transcends age. I can now confidently believe that Laika is replacing Pixar as the top tier of US animation.
It’s a little messy, but it’s more than worth it for the incredible animation, sharp humor, bold characters and pure ambition. The Boxtrolls is an exciting experience that will attach itself to everyone for different reasons. Something would have to go horrible for me to not at least respect the ways Laika is innovating animation.
Release Date: 9/26/2014
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Isaac Hempstead Wright and Elle Fanning
Directed by: Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi
Screenplay by: Irena Brignull and Adam Pava
Based on the novel “Here Be Monsters!” by: Alan Snow