“The Boxtrolls” is the only film that has been in theatres recently which I feel will appeal to a younger audience; it has charm, fantasy and a slightly frustrating (but still admirable) deeper meaning. As a whole it was very enjoyable, and the screening was quite quiet considering the fact that there was a large number of young children filling its seats. The children were captivated by the animation and the action happening on screen, and for the most part so was I, particularly at the beginning of the film while the style was still being established.
The plot of the film is reasonably simple, but that is to be expected when dealing with a movie catered towards a young audience. The movie is about Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), a child who has been raised by an underground society of monsters, known as the Boxtrolls. Eggs has grown to love the Boxtrolls and believes himself to be one of them, but the townspeople think that he has been kidnapped and subsequently killed, due to the deceitfulness of this film’s main villain, Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley). This leads the upper world to treat the Boxtrolls as evil, and therefore Lord Portley-Rind, leader of the White Hats (whose main job is to talk about and test the quality of cheese), appoints Snatcher to exterminate the troublesome pests. Snatcher takes his place as the antagonist of the film, all in the name of becoming a White Hat himself, but Eggs and the Boxtrolls fight to survive, assisted by Lord Portley-Rind’s often ignored daughter Winnie (Elle Fanning).
The fact that this is a kids movie does hold it back slightly, because a lot of the drama in this film could’ve been avoided if the exterminators had been a little bit more practical. (SPOILER ALERT) As you might expect, considering the fact that this film is called “The Boxtrolls” and they are the heroes of the film, Eggs wasn’t actually kidnapped. Eggs’ father, Herbert Trubshaw (Simon Pegg), was known as a great inventor and saw that the Boxtrolls weren’t actually monsters, but that instead they were misunderstood and inquisitive creatures who enjoyed building intricate contraptions from what most people would consider to be trash. As a result of his reputation he was asked to build a machine which would help Snatcher kill the Boxtrolls, but he refused, leading Snatcher to threaten him and his family. To protect his child, Herbert gave Eggs to the Boxtrolls and they raised him from that point on.
Now, there are a couple of problems with this story as I’ve told it so far, because if this film had a greater sense of realism, so much effort could’ve been avoided. Snatcher and the exterminators knew full well that the Boxtrolls had built their community underneath the cobbled streets of Cheesebridge, and yet they went to the trouble of building a machine to have the Boxtrolls killed, a machine which wasn’t truly needed. All that the exterminators had to do was quietly poison the Boxtrolls by leaking gas into the sewers and they could have spent years of their lives on better pursuits, Eggs wouldn’t have been raised a savage, and Herbert would’ve been saved a lot of heartache! It’s slightly dark I know, but at the end of the day the Boxtrolls are no more than animals, and there’d be no outrage if that kind of thing happened in the real world to an animal we class as vermin.
Clearly that kind of thing can’t happen in a kid’s movie, it’s just fun to think about what might happen if this film wasn’t designed for children. However, I do think that the best movies of this kind are those that appeal to all ages, movies that aren’t catered towards children, but instead simply appeal to them through their visuals and playfulness, whilst also having a coherent story and a clear sense of self-awareness. I do find it slightly annoying that a film like this can’t stick that little bit closer to reality, because unless you decide to make your film utterly ridiculous a lack of realism can hold you back, particularly when you consider that a lot of people enjoy stop motion animation and would like to see the movie, but don’t have children.
Films like “Fantastic Mr Fox” have a genuine sense of fear attached to them, and characters really do feel as though they are in danger, because everything that happens is that bit more authentic. I believe that films such as “Fantastic Mr Fox” are the standard which a movie like this (which has a similar premise) should attempt to live up to, and that because “The Boxtrolls” seems a little bit silly (with that silliness not adding to the movie in any way), as a result it will struggle and possibly miss out on things like Oscar nominations, which perhaps its animation deserves. I’m still going to rate the film apart from issues like this because I’m evaluating it as a children’s movie, but I think that this is a point worth making, especially when this film didn’t fully live up to its potential (in my opinion).
As with most movies which are catered towards a younger audience, there is a moral to the story which is subtly conveyed by the events happening on screen. I think that this is an important aspect of this kind of movie, because if a parent has brought their child to watch a film then they want that child to gain more from the experience than a few funny images and an obsession with a snowman named Olaf. The meaning behind the story of “The Boxtrolls” could be any number of things:
1) That we shouldn’t judge the many by the actions of the few (given that the Boxtrolls are hated because one Boxtroll ‘kidnapped’ Eggs, yet the rest of the Boxtrolls weren’t involved in that event).
2) That parents are supposed to listen to their children and care for them, something which Lord Portley-Rind seems to have missed along the way (causing him a great deal of distress).
3) That even the poorest of people can be creative and intelligent, and that we should always make the best of our situations.
I feel that what the filmmakers really want people to take from this film is that people can be whoever they want to be, and they can do whatever they want to do, given the chance. A big deal is made of the fact that we can change our nature and we don’t have to hide (in a box) when danger comes, we should face it head on and have a voice in our society. Although the movie forces that message down our throats towards the end I think that it was a nice way to try and give the events of this film a purpose, and once I got that this was something the writers were trying to convey, I could understand why these creatures were only clothed by a bunch of cardboard boxes, and those boxes no longer felt unnecessary.
The setting of an animated film is quite important, because creating a world with these kinds of effects allows designers to express themselves with almost endless possibilities, and be more creative, because they aren’t confined to places in the real world. With that said, “The Boxtrolls” has what I would consider to be two main worlds, the town of Cheesebridge, and the sewers which lie beneath, with the latter being more notable than the former. The community the Boxtrolls have built underneath Cheesebridge is really quite heart-warming and very sweet, making the first time the camera pans down onto their world a great moment in the movie. Their home is grey and dark, but the beauty of it all still resonates with the audience, because they have done so much with so little. They have a series of inventions, made from garbage they have found on the streets above, which work perfectly well, and they give the environment a very quirky feel.
However, Cheesebridge is somewhat less impressive, and I would say that it is actually pretty underwhelming. We don’t see much of it in the film, as we are rushed through the town whilst following the Boxtrolls in their efforts to escape the exterminators. The only part of Cheesebridge which we actually see in detail is Lord Portley-Rind’s house, and the square outside. Whilst the inside of the house is fitting for his wealth, the square outside isn’t much to look at, and the setting feels bare, which is a shame considering what strange artifacts could populate it.
There are some pretty good voice performances in the movie; Richard Ayoade lends his voice to “The Boxtrolls” as Mr. Pickles, one of Snatcher’s henchmen, and only has to read the lines as he would normally say them in order to be funny and memorable. Nick Frost also does a good job as Mr. Trout, another of Snatcher’s henchmen, and Ben Kingsley does a good job as Snatcher himself. On the other hand, the voice work of Isaac Hempstead-Wright was pretty average and at times I actually found it quite painful. As the main protagonist of the film I thought that his performance was quite weak and that his voice didn’t fit the look of the character or the film itself. A softer, less agitating voice, would’ve suited Eggs’ character a lot better, and I’m starting to question whether or not I will ever enjoy an Isaac Hempstead-Wright performance (given that he is by far the worst actor on “Game of Thrones”), because even his voice acting is annoying.
The animation was beautiful, and the film did feel as though it came from the makers of “Coraline” and “Paranorman”. The stop motion was slightly different than I was expecting, in that it was quite fluid and at times it seemed more like a computer generated movie, but that isn’t really a negative for the film. For the most part this is a very pretty film and the visuals deserve to be praised, but I did pick up on one particular issue. During scenes in which things were moving quickly, for example, as the Boxtrolls fled the exterminators, the screen became quite blurred and the movie was difficult to watch. I could accept this if it was just the backgrounds becoming blurred as the Boxtrolls passed them at speed, but the characters themselves actually became blurred in these moments. That was a real shame and I wasn’t able to ignore it once I had noticed it, which tarnished my enjoyment of the film somewhat.
The best aspect of this movie is the Boxtrolls themselves, which is important if this movie is going to succeed, not only in theatres, but also with merchandising in the future. They are an odd group, and they don’t say that much, but they are creative and kind and understood the importance of friendship, which really endeared the audience to them. They’re very likeable and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Minions from “Despicable Me” were a large influence on their design. Just like the Minions, the Boxtrolls have their own way of communicating, through a series of inaudible chunters and grumbles, whilst occasionally managing to utter a real word if the scene requires them to.
“The Boxtrolls” was an entertaining, funny, and visually striking film, and I definitely feel as though it is a movie which the entire family will enjoy. Furthermore, it tries to have something meaningful to say, and is complimented by a few good voice performances. The animation alone makes it worth the price of the ticket, because what these filmmakers are able to create is really quite impressive, even though it is far from perfect. In my opinion, most of the positive aspects of the film are cancelled out by the negatives, whether it be the setting or the voice acting, and I was slightly bored by the end, because I didn’t believe that anything bad could actually happen to the characters. However, I still enjoyed the movie and I do believe that it will do well and that children (the target audience) will have a good time watching it.