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Review: The Boxtrolls (2014)

The Boxtrolls (2014)

Directed by: Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi

Premise: A stop-motion animated film. A community of trolls live beneath the city of Cheesebridge. The trolls generally keep to themselves except for digging through the resident’s trash at night. A human boy lives among the trolls and must defend them from human society when the city tries to get rid of the trolls. 

What Works: The animation genre has been overtaken by computer generated work. While a lot of impressive films have been made, especially by Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, there is something about stop-motion that is charming in a way that other forms of animation haven’t been able to capture. The Boxtrolls is a good example of this. The movie is smart and fun and it demonstrates a lot of creative ingenuity and tremendous energy. It’s also extremely well crafted. Stop motion animation tends to look very erratic but the movement in this film is as smooth as live action and the characters and locations have a lot of texture and scale and do not look like miniatures. This film was produced by Laika Entertainment, the production studio of Coraline and ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls is consistent with those films, especially ParaNorman. Like the 2012 feature, The Boxtrolls tells a story of young people who come into contact with the town legend only to find that what society believed about these outsiders was wrong and they must take sides with the Other in order to save the day. In telling this story, the filmmakers of The Boxtrolls combine crowd pleasing entertainment and grotesque thrills with subtle (and not so subtle) social commentary. In the course of the story, an ambitious and unscrupulous social climber stokes the fear and prejudice of the community against an outside group, kidnaps these creatures, and forces them to work in slave labor conditions with the ultimate goal of extermination. Adults will more than likely pick up the heavy social and political themes but the movie handles them deftly. The humor of the picture offsets the weight of the social commentary without cheapening it; in fact, the humor tends to humanize the trolls and other characters, allowing the audience to make an emotional investment in them that makes the light social commentary more impactful.

What Doesn’t: Although The Boxtrolls appeals to both children and adults, it seesaws dramatically between those two audience groups. The early portions of the movie tend more toward children and play like a Warner Brothers cartoon. The latter part of the movie, and especially the climax, is pretty intense for the kind of movie this is and very young or sensitive children may be frightened by the visuals or confused by the political machinations. The movie does take a while to get going; at ninety-six minutes it isn’t a long picture but at times the movie feels its length partly because the human characters aren’t especially memorable but also because the plot is so predictable. Like a lot of family movies, and for that matter a lot of big budget fantasy pictures, The Boxtrolls is about an outsider who has to convince mainstream society that the people they are afraid of are actually harmless. The movie chugs along and viewers who are familiar with ParaNorman will notice a lot of parallels. The length of the picture is especially apparent in the overextended ending. The story comes to its organic climax and resolves the issues at hand. But instead of wrapping up their movie, the filmmakers overplay it and tag on a secondary climax that is unnecessary. That’s a minor quibble with what is still a pretty good picture.  

Bottom Line: The Boxtrolls is a fun and smart animated feature. It may be a little erratic in its tone but the film is entertaining and extremely well made and has some smart social commentary embedded into it.

Episode: #511 (October 5, 2014)