Upsetting many by claiming a spot on the Best Animated Film Oscar nominations 2015 over Lego: The Movie, The Boxtrolls presents an underdog story not dissimilar to that of its Oscar credentials. But where Lego made computer animation look like stop-motion animation Boxtrolls goes one better by doing it for real.
Based on Alan Snow’s Here Be Monsters Boxtrolls tells the story of Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), an orphaned boy who is raised by the underground creatures of the title. But while the Boxtrolls are a harmless race of rubbish collectors the evil Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) has given them bad press in the town of Cheesebridge and vowed to exterminate them all. With their existence threatened Eggs befriends the mayor’s daughter Winnie (Elle Fanning) in helping him rescue his friends.
Continuing the trend they set out with previous efforts ParaNorman and Coraline studio Laika seem to have learned from Pixar and put their own uniquely dark little spin on animation movies. Boxtrolls is no exception with a warm and heartfelt story at its core and endless amounts of humour and inventiveness to build around it.
Despite the arduous task of performing stop-motion animation the technique lends a tangible quality to the visuals. Everything on offer feels touchable, real and somehow perfectly lifted from a Terry Gilliam film with a Tim Burton come German Expressionism aesthetic. The detail is staggering and, compared to many computer animated films, brings a sense of texture that envelops you in the film all the more.
Where it does slightly lack is in the plot department, the narrative often favouring the slightly off-kilter world created than telling a coherent story. But the jokes, which will appeal to children and adults alike, come thick and fast. The Boxtrolls themselves, a kind of cross between Gremlins and Despicable Me’s Minions, are endlessly endearing. Their garbled language alone is often enough to have you beaming from ear to ear.
Hempstead Wright gives a nice Oliver Twist style tone to his vocals for Egg while Elle Fanning is typically brilliant as Winnie, her stroppy, frustrated delivery perfectly capturing the precocious youngster. But the real draw is from the adult talent on offer. Kingsley’s Archibald is desperately disgusting, a fat version of his foul-mouthed monster, albeit with PG rather than 18 certificate language, from Sexy Beast. Jared Harris is wonderful as the mayor of Cheesebridge with Nick Frost and Richard Ayoade bringing a fun sense of comic relief to the more villainous scenes.
Darker and more visceral than your average children’s animation The Boxtrolls is part Dickensian story with a healthy dose of morbid sense of humour making it hard to pitch but enchanting to watch.