‘The Boxtrolls:’ I Laika’d It

When it comes to stop motion animation, the folks at Laika are at the top of the heap. And The Boxtrolls is a triumph. There is simply no one doing it better, or with more personality, vision, and general success.

The Boxtrolls is set in the fictional, vaguely European, cobblestoned, and hilly town of Cheesebridge, where the very richest wear extremely tall white hats, eat copious amounts of cheese, and do practically nothing else (like build a children’s hospital…they spend the money on a gigantic wheel of cheese instead. Look, sick kids are important, but I’m not going to say I don’t get it. Cheese is my religion.). The town is plagued by boxtrolls, which are exactly what they sound like: little, adorable troll monsters who live inside cardboard boxes and sneak around the streets at night foraging for neat metal objects they can use to build their crazy cool underground home.

But the people of Cheesebridge do not find the boxtrolls adorable. In fact, ever since the Trapshaw baby was stolen by them years ago (or so they’re told), the people of Cheesebridge are terrified of the creatures, convinced that they snatch children and eat their faces off. An extremely disgusting man named Archibald Snatcher (Sir Ben Kingsley), along with his simple henchmen (played with utter perfection by Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost, and Tracy Morgan), perpetuate this nasty story and go around “exterminating” boxtrolls. Snatcher’s power hungry and ruthless, with one goal: to gain a white hat and therefore, access to the “tasting room” – where fancy cheese is consumed with abandon by the wealthiest, snobbiest men of Cheesebridge.

Meanwhile, we become privy to the obvious fact that the Trapshaw baby was not, indeed, dismembered and gobbled up by the boxtrolls, but instead, lovingly cared for and raised to be one of them. Sure, they eat bugs aned it’s a bit dirty underground, but the boxtrolls are warm and fuzzy little guys. The boy goes by Eggs (that’s what kind of box he inhabits), and we learn the true story of how he became a boxtroll about halfway into the movie. It’s a horrible tale that, of course, incriminates the evil dude, and the race to save the boxtrolls and the town of Cheesebridge from the grip of Archibald Snatcher, the real monster, begins.

I give the filmmakers a whole lot of credit for making an animated kids’ movie in the great, old-fashioned tradition of terrifying the pants of small children. There’s little to no sap, nothing “cute” occurs, and the vision of Cheesebridge is dirty, rank, and stinky, just like the cheese with which the town is obsessed. The characters are angular and off-color, with blue-cheese-moldy faces, contoured with green and blue lines that show their true, nasty colors. The film is rife with pure evil, parental neglect, cross-dressing, homoeroticism, leeches, abduction, clinical insanity, disgusting allergic reactions, sewers, grime, and stinky cheese. It’s fantastic.

It’s not nearly as funny as ParaNorman so the script left a little to be desired, but Richard Ayoade’s conflicted henchman is the highlight, hands down. The story seems secondary to the creation of this world — the characters, like the little girl, Winnie, who befriends Eggs, seem to exist because they’re expected to (how do you have a story about a lost little boy without the tough girl to help him through it). Her father, the wealthy, white-hatted Mr. Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), makes promises Snatcher he has no intention of keeping, which seem just a little too convenient and lazy for the story that unfolds. But then again, Winnie is a little obsessed with blood and gore and Mr. Portley-Rind ends up questioning his sexual identity, so I loved it.

The world of the boxtrolls is most definitely the focus, and it’s intricate and lovely and a true work of art, one to be appreciated. If you want to realize just how impressive it is, stay to the end of the credits, where Richard Ayoade, the King of Everything (a title I just made up that suits his role in the world pretty solidly, if I do say so myself), makes it all clear.

Grade: A-

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