I will try not to give too much away, because The Boxtrolls is odd.
Very, very odd, but enjoyable, and definitely worth seeing.
The story is based-ish on “Here Be Monsters!” by Alan Snow, and is essentially Beauty and the Beast meets Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit meets Tarzan, in a world visually and socially reminiscent of Coraline. The Boxtrolls feels more populated than Coraline did, but in terms of interesting characters, they’re about equal.
And there is cheese…and trolls…and a lot of bad puns…and Sir Ben Kingsley playing the obvious villain.
I tried to describe it to other friends after getting back from the film, and they gave me this look:
From the first few frames, I felt like I was entering a strange, almost Dr. Seuss-esque world. It’s creative and engaging, with the animation playing hop-scotch across the gap between beautiful and just plain grotesque. The characters are modeled off of what real people look like, of course, but as with Coraline and even Mary and Max, they are constructed with exaggerated shapes and possess extremely caricatured features. And, as you might have guessed, the film is stop motion.
The trolls themselves are cute and, thankfully, not irritating, even when they are shown to cower, run, and shriek. The town of Cheesebridge and its sewer system are the settings, and they are gritty for most of the film, but nicely detailed as well.
The people outside of the main characters come across as very cold, stupid, and selfish, which is, along with a few cliches that don’t bring anything new to the table, but are handled well enough for what they are, the weakest thing about this film. The views of the world as a harsh, judging, unsafe place remind me a bit of Roald Dahl’s works, but we’re never given a really good reason for why people are the way they are, besides that it’s Victorian era (?) and the politicians are selfish and ineffectual.
At least in Coraline, the main adults were tired and over-worked. Here, it feels like mean-spiritedness for the sake of itself, and kind of made me laugh with the audaciousness.
If the people are just misunderstanding the situations they come across, I could sympathize with them and their desires to protect their homes and families. Fear does weird things to people, after all. But the people, not the designated antagonists, seem genuinely awful, and weirder still, intentional so. I’m not entirely sure what that’s trying to say, if anything. And the third act is set in motion by an event that borders on the misunderstandings I’ve mentioned before, but somehow it feels set up and contrived at the same time.
My friend and I laughed out loud at one joke in particular, and the rest of the humor runs from average to pretty funny. The main characters are endearing enough; the trolls, who don’t speak English, and even the henchmen to an extent as well (although I hinge between finding their dialogue cute and trying too hard to make a point at times). They do keep one guy as the straight up evil, completely stupid lackey though, so the variety is nice.
That’s about all I can comfortably say without spoiling things. I’d recommend it for the visual style alone. It’s weird, but also cute, harmless fun, and it branches towards something greater, but doesn’t ever completely reach it.
So (and I should have put this in practice awhile ago)… 8/10
*As usual, no pics belong to me