If you’re a child of a certain dreary disposition, you may adore The Boxtrolls, what with its talk of kidnapping and face ripping and intestine slurping. If you’re not, you may wet your bed for the next three weeks.
To be clear: this movie is grotesque, perverse and frightening. One pivotal scene literally features an explosion of bodily fluids. Parents of younger children be warned. That said, it’s also a lot of fun and occasionally heartwarming, in a “you’re weird, I’m weird, let’s be weird together” kind of way.
The Boxtrolls is the third project from Laika, makers of the Oscar-nominated ParaNorman and Tim Burton-esque Coraline. The film is based on the 2005 novel Here Be Monsters! by author and illustrator Alan Snow.
Children’s literature, from the twisted fantasies of Roald Dahl to the macabre tales of the Brother’s Grimm, has always explored the seedy underbelly of imagination. But the worlds we’ve heard about in words – the bedtime stories about wolves in grandmothers’ clothing and old ladies baking children – take on an extra creepiness on screen. Laika has once again successfully translated nightmare into film, producing a visually beautiful stop-motion romp through a land where things go bump in the night.
Charming, creepy and funny, The Boxtrolls opens door on a secret world of underground beasties.
What exactly is a Boxtroll? It’s a gross but loveable little monster akin to the erratic yellow minions in Despicable Me. The blue beasties inhabit old discarded boxes, and are so named: Fish for the troll in the fish box, shoe for the troll in the shoebox and so on.
But in the dirty industrial town of Cheesebridge, where the story is set, Boxtrolls are a misunderstood and maligned race. The hatred for the harmless creatures is stoked by the evil Archibald Snatcher, who leads a pair of henchmen eradicators through town scooping up the mini monsters in garbage-filled alleyways.
Snatcher hopes his services will earn him the respect of the town elite, a group of cheese-hoarding aristocrats. Snatcher will do anything to be part of the club.
Our hero is “Eggs,” a little boy who grows up underground with the Boxtrolls, and assumes himself one of them. That is, until he meets Winnie, the daughter of the cheese-obsessed mayor of Cheesebridge. Winnie, who comes off a bit deranged in her fascination with the ghoulish, seeks the attention of her aloof father, and also wants to know all about the Boxtrolls, which she joyfully assumes are ruthless killers and baby snatchers.
Eggs helps the Boxtrolls overcome their timidity and goes on a mission to right their damaged reputation.
The plot – despite all the creative frills – ends up being fairly boilerplate, concluding as a standard, though cynical, morality tale of tolerance and compassion. But it’s boosted by incredible visuals, excellent musical orchestration, and stunning voice work by the entire cast, especially Ben Kingsley, whose Snatcher drips with morbidity. Rounding out the talented crew are Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Tracy Morgan.
Adults will appreciate the philosophizing asides of one of Snatcher’s henchmen, who is oddly aware of his moral role in the troll terrorizing. Kids will giggle at the gross parts and enjoy the goofy gags.
Perhaps the best symbol of what the movie aspires to actually comes after the movie. During the credits is a version of the Pete Seeger hit “Little Boxes,” a tongue-in-cheek satire about conformity and the blandness of middle class life. The Boxtrolls wears its weirdness on its sleeve, and implores the audience to do the same – dare to be different. Let’s be weird together, it says.
The Boxtrolls (3) Directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi • Starring Ben Kinglsey, Jared Harris and Nick Frost • Rated PG • 97 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Northridge Cinemas, Maya CInemas.