Directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi
Packed with many whimsical — if not occasionally off-putting — moments, animated adventure “The Boxtrolls” is a wacky trip from beginning to end. With more than a few fair nods toward other films, the “Monty Python” films especially, this film’s straightforward story throws enough snide remarks and quirkiness at the viewer to make the whole trip worthwhile.
Loosely based on the novel “Here Be Monsters!” by Alan Snow, the story of “The Boxtrolls” follows the orphaned boy Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), who has been raised in an underground world by kleptomaniac, cave-dwelling trolls that dress themselves with boxes. Since Eggs’ rescue, the megalomaniacal Archibald Snatcher, a red-hatted exterminator with a hunger for cheese, has hunted their society. As more and more of his adoptive family goes missing, Eggs needs to return to the human world and, with the help of Winnie (Elle Fanning), the sole daughter of the city’s leader, prove to all that the trolls are innocent.
While Eggs, Winnie and Snatcher take the center stage, the colorful cast of side characters make the film. Snatcher’s bumbling, red-hatted henchmen, Mr. Gristle (Tracy Morgan), Mr. Trout (Nick Frost) and Mr. Pickles (Richard Ayoade), fulfill the roles of the violent id, the morally focused ego and compromising superego. They spend the majority of their screen time managing the idiosyncrasies of Snatcher and debating the moral ramifications of their troll-snatching actions. These characters add a dose of sanity and self-aware humor to the otherwise chaotic nature of the film.
“The Boxtrolls” truly shines when it comes to production studio Laika Entertainment’s animation. The film’s clay models are intricately detailed, the sets are fantastically constructed and the cinematography draws richly from its German expressionist roots. Most of the movie is constructed without a care for logical architecture or spatial sensibility. The houses are stacked precariously on top of each other, the roads are impossibly steep and the Boxtrolls’ underground Rube Goldberg–style fantasyland is complex beyond belief.
Even the characters are reminiscent of expressionist art, with its human models featuring rotund stomachs, spindly arms and long, angular faces. The machines are grotesque in their design, with off-kilter designs and steampunk-themed schematics. The diminutive Boxtrolls are equally inspired. Each troll is garbed in nothing but a box, but they all manage to show just as much diversity and personality as any human. The trolls come in all shapes, sizes and boxes, and their names come from what is on their boxes. Two of the main trolls are named Fish (Dee Bradley Baker) and Shoe (Steve Blum) and together show as much personality through their grumbles and grunts as any other character in the film.
Despite its wonderful aesthetic and fantastic characters, the film manages to fit in more than its fair share of “ew” moments: regurgitated food; bloated, swollen body parts; and leeches all make an appearance. These gross-out scenes aren’t too common, but they’re enough to taint the experience for the squeamish.
There are also a few inconsistencies in the narrative. Presumably, Eggs has never met another human. Yet he speaks perfect British English despite being raised in a subterranean colony of mumbling gremlins. When pressed about his linguistic ability, Eggs shrugs it off, labeling it as a “speech impediment.”
Additionally, the ruling class of the city does little actual ruling, preferring instead to hoard cheeses and wear fancy white hats. Yet the proletariat has little issue with the inefficiencies of its government, and cheese — a precious resource — is commonplace and plentiful for every public event. “The Boxtrolls” throws a lot of off-the-wall humor at its viewers, and as long as the audience can overlook the precarious architecture, the film will provide an enjoyable ride.
From its moody beginning to a wonderfully destructive finale, “The Boxtrolls” delivers an experience that’s definitely worth seeing. While the audience’s response may vary with some of the off-color jokes, this is a film that, despite its premise, thinks outside of the box.