The Boxtrolls is another offbeat stop-motion endeavor from Laika Studios, who previously created Coraline and ParaNorman. Boxtrolls is a bit more charming and less dark than its predecessors, but it retains their expert craftsmanship.
In case the title of “The Boxtrolls” wasn’t offbeat enough, the hero of the movie is named Eggs. Eggs is a human boy raised by the Boxtrolls after he was orphaned. The Boxtrolls are strange little creatures that take up names based on the cardboard boxes they wear (Eggs wears a box labeled ‘eggs’ hence his name). They sleep underground during the day, and dig through garbage for metal trinkets at night. They are harmless creatures, and too cowardly to fight back should anyone try to do them harm (hiding in their boxes is their only method of self-defense).
Despite their simple nature, the people of the town of Cheesebridge all fear Boxtrolls, believing that they kidnapped and ate the orphaned boy years earlier. A ruthless exterminator, Archibald Snatcher, claims that he can rid the town of the creatures. In return, Snatcher wishes for the town’s mayor to grant him membership into the White Hats, the town’s council of aristocratic cheese connoisseurs (despite Snatcher having a cheese allergy). One by one Snatcher and his team of thugs begin to exterminate the Boxtrolls, until only a few of them (and Eggs) remain. It’s then up to Eggs and the mayor’s daughter Winnie to find a way to save the defenseless creatures.
It’s a simple storyline that packs a fair bit of charm due to its sillier aspects and some fun humor (the scenes where Eggs attempts to fit into human society – only for his trollish upbringing to get in the way – are among the film’s highlights), but it’s the animation that’s the real star.
The character models are wonderfully realized caricatures, and they move with a liveliness to match that of a CG animation. Oftentimes there’s so much going on all at once that you really do wonder how the film was made. Stop-motion animation is always a work of painstaking patience and attention to detail, and The Boxtrolls is one of the best examples of how well it can all payoff.
Unfortunately, The Boxtrolls isn’t always so wonderful as its animation. Too often it falls back on gross-out gags (namely those relating to Snatcher’s cheese allergy), which never mesh with the movie’s otherwise good nature. And as has been the case with Laika’s past films, the message, while telling simple truths, becomes a bit loud. Being kind and understanding to those who are different than oneself is definitely a good message, but it’s also recycled from ParaNorman, and both films seem to have a need to bluntly reinforce it, which can make things feel a tad contrived at times.
Still, the good ultimately outweighs the bad, and it would be hard for someone to be completely bored with a movie that looks so alive. The Boxtrolls boasts some of the most detailed stop-motion I’ve seen, and makes it look effortless. And when it’s wise enough to leave the gross-outs behind it, it can be a funny and smartly-written film (another highlight are snatcher’s minions, a group of simpletons who think they’re doing the right thing, but slowly begin to realize they are little more than evil henchmen).
The Boxtrolls may not always work, but it would be impossible to not be won over to some degree by the work that went into it.