The Boxtrolls

The Boxtrolls photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgOregon-based Laika Animated Studios is best known for the films Coraline and ParaNorman. Each one is an impressive feature that blends an engaging story with stop-motion artistry. Quite simply, they’re extraordinary works of entertainment. In fact, both were such successes they each made my Top 10 in the respective years they came out. Given that, The Boxtrolls was among my most eagerly anticipated releases of the year. It goes without saying that my expectations were very high. Unfortunately, I’m sorry to report that Laika’s latest offering is a crushing disappointment.

The Boxtrolls are a community of odd creatures that dwell underneath the cobblestone streets of Victorian era Cheesebridge. Legend has vilified them as evil bandits that prey on the town’s most precious resources: their cheeses and their children. The two things are not necessarily listed in order of importance. The Boxtrolls are a curious sort. They wear recycled cardboard boxes the way turtles inhabit their shells and have names designated by the cover of their box. Fish, Wheels, Bucket and Shoe are some examples. I’d be hard pressed to discern the personality of one from another. Their nonsensical babble-speak begs comparison to the Minions from Despicable Me. The Boxtrolls are a sharp contrast from those similar though much more successful critters. I mean those delightful little rapscallions are getting their own movie. One would think these oddballs were meant to be endearing given they inspired the title of this movie. However the Boxtrolls have been relegated to the sidelines in favor of two other human characters.

Laika’s latest is based on Alan Snow’s 2005 book “Here Be Monsters!” but the real protagonists of the film are two human children. Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) is a boy that, was given to the Boxtrolls to raise. He’s later discovered by Winnie (Elle Fanning), an overbearing young girl that becomes Eggs’ first friend from up above. Apparently she is there to berate him that he’s a human boy and not a troll at all. Ok, you’re technically correct, but seriously, could you please just shut up?  She’s such a killjoy. Their shenanigans didn’t amuse or interest me in the slightest. On the baddie side we have Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) as the main antagonist. He’s also got three henchman Mr. Trout, Mr. Pickles and Mr. Gristle voiced by Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade and Tracy Morgan. They provide what little humor there is. Mr. Snatcher is out to exterminate every last Boxtroll so that he can become a member of the White Hats, an elite club of cheese aficionados that serve as Cheesebridge’s city council. Yes, he’s essentially advocating genocide with his bizarre Steampunk fashioned metal contraption. Heavy stuff that feels out of place. It’s important to infuse the macabre with some emotion. This doesn’t. Side note: his allergic skin reaction to his beloved cheese is pretty disgusting.

It pains me to say this, but The Boxtrolls is a charmless, tedious bore. The picture attempts to be something that it is not, an American attempt at British humor. Aardman Studios, excels at this. Remember Chicken Run? Of course you do because it was enjoyable fun. The Boxtrolls in contrast has a meandering plot largely devoid of laughs. It’s hampered by stock characters that fail to enchant. The story and the personalities are thoroughly uninvolving. Sadly generic to the core. Despite all that, the technique is gorgeous. Visually the production is a WOW. The beautifully rendered world with remarkable attention to detail, does captivate the senses. It’s easy to forget this is not computer assisted. These puppets have been painstakingly moved one frame at a time. Although the movement is so seamless, I can’t help but question whether some trickery is being employed. Regardless, it looks stunning. The hand drawn closing credits sequence which encapsulates the entire tale, is beautiful too. It’s even accompanied by a lovely cover version of the Pete Seeger hit “Little Boxes” by Portland band Loch Lomond. Additionally a brief post-credits scene highlights the painstaking process of stop motion animation. I suggest sticking around to enjoy it. It’s the most fascinating display in the whole film.


13 Responses to “The Boxtrolls”

  1. Saw this movie and couldn’t agree with you more. You’re right about every point.


  2. Good stuff man, I will probably do my best to get this on rental at some point. A real shame for me, too. I was looking forward to this a lot


    • Once upon a time (back in 2000 to be exact) an animated stop motion film made $106.8 million. That movie was Chicken Run. In today’s dollars that would be equivalent to $161.6 million. The Boxtrolls won’t surpass that figure, but it has received generally positive reviews. I’m a notable exception.

      P.S. What do I have to do to be in the DSB Club?


  3. martin250 Says:

    Great review. am very interested in seeing this. I consider ParaNorman and Coraline to be good movies, 3 stars each. So I wonder if Box Trolls will work better for me. your description “charmless tedious bore” vs. the high score on RT is my current deciding factor. this will be a tough choice.


    • Even the critics on RT that gave The Boxtrolls good reviews acknowledged it wasn’t as great as ParaNorman and Coraline, so I’d adjust your expectations downward for this.


  4. So did this one make your popcorn taste like…cardboard?? (Really bad pun on the title, and also a really obscure Ebert reference. But hey I couldn’t resist.)


  5. Hmm. This is a real curiosity. What is its audience, do you suppose? Who the devil is supposed to enjoy a thing like this? With the usual acknowledgments of the technical skill of its animators, it’s full of grotesqueries of a different sort but equal repugnance with the ones we’ve come to associate with Tim Burton, tied to the kind of preachiness the makers of “children’s” movies just can’t seem to let go of, concerned in this case with taking to our hearts the physically ugly but otherwise lovable boxtrolls.

    Hey, film makers, how can you NOT see that the REAL challenge to our humanity isn’t posed by the obviously easy-to-like boxtrolls but the much-harder-to-accept redhats! But then what can you expect of people who choose to accompany the closing credits of their film with the most snobbishly intolerant song lyrics ever to get into the top forty.


    • Not surprisingly The Boxtrolls didn’t connect with audiences only earning $50 million against a $60 million production budget. Animated The LEGO Movie made $257 million by comparison.


  6. I’ve had The Boxtrolls sitting in my screener pile. Based on your review, I’ll be moving it to the bottom of my stack. I would also probably be annoyed by Winnie and the film’s failed attempt at British humor. Like you though, I’m sure I would laugh at the interactions between Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, and Tracy Morgan. So at least I’ll look forward to that.


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