The Boxtrolls (2014) is the latest output from Laika Entertainment that in the past has brought us ParaNorman (2012), Coraline (2009) and Corpse Bride (2005). It is co-directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi – it is Annable’s first foray into directing having previously been an animation artist on ParaNorman. Stacchi has a previous co-director credit on Open Season (2006). The key voices are provided by Ben Kingsley, Isaac Hempstead Wright and Elle Fanning with notable support from Nick Frost, Jared Harris and Richard Ayoade.
The Boxtrolls follows the story of these strange little creatures who live under the streets of the town of Cheesebridge who emerge at night to collect / steal various bits and pieces that catch their attention. A myth has grown amongst the towns people that the Boxtrolls are a danger to their children and Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley) is employed to track them all down and put an end to their reign of terror. He offers to do so in return for a white hat, a symbol of the top tier of nobility. A small boy known as Eggs (Wright) has been raised by the Boxtrolls and finds himself trying to counter the misguided myths about them which leads to an unlikely friendship with a young girl called Winnie (Fanning).
The best way to think of this film is that it is The Jungle Book (1967) meets the work of Roald Dahl. We have the young boy being raised in an unconventional manner mixed with the grotesque qualities of Snatcher and the high society of Cheesebridge. The Snatcher character, brilliantly voiced by Kingsley, is a glorious mix of Fagan from Oliver and Thénardier from Les Miserables. He’s clearly the bad guy but you kind of like him as well.
If you look carefully the film draws its inspiration from a variety of sources. Beyond The Jungle Book there’s a bit of The Lion King (1994), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), Wall-E (2008) and a scene lifted from The Matrix Revolutions (2003). The animators have done an excellent job of creating a believable, atmospheric world for the characters to inhabit. So good in fact that I would save your money and watch it in 2D because the animation has so much depth to it I see no value in putting the glasses on and losing 30% of the light.
The Boxtrolls themselves have been given a clear character of their own despite the fact they speak no English. They have an ape-like quality in the way they fight each other for the shiniest objects and try to hide in the corner with them to stop the others from being able to snatch them back. They beat their chests as a form of greeting and I would have sworn the voices were taken directly from some of the creatures in Star Wars (1977).
The Boxtrolls explores a range of themes. At the top of the list is the power of propaganda and the myth creation about these innocent little creatures. It promotes the message of questioning prejudice and challenging what we think we know. For me it brought to mind the Nazi persecution of the Jews and the British portrayal of the Germans and Japanese. Evolution is explored as the Boxtrolls find themselves on the brink of extinction as their natural response to being threatened is to hide within their boxes and stay still which doesn’t work with Snatcher and his gang. It is only when they are shown a new way of responding to the change in their environment that their future is secure.
I suspect you may have already picked up on the fact I really liked this film. I already know that it will be competing to appear on my list of favourite films for 2014. It hit the sweet spot with me and kept the kids in the cinema quiet so it must be getting something right. It took me right back to the time I saw Wall-E for the first time. It’s warm, humorous and fantastic escapism.
For the parents amongst you here is a link to the BBFC web-site and its description of the film – it has a PG rating which means some scenes might be considered unsuitable for young kids. http://www.bbfc.co.uk/releases/boxtrolls-film-0.