The opening frames of The Boxtrolls are enough to convince that it’s an exquisite stop motion picture. Animation studio Laika produced some outstanding feats of stop motion with their debut feature Coraline and 2012‘s second offering, ParaNorman. Boxtrolls demonstrates the same level of flair.
The film’s Victorian, steampunk backdrop of the immaculately conceived twisty, shadow cloaked roads of Cheesebridge lends itself to the dark, underworld of Sweeney Todd type villains, corrupt mayors and boogeymen. Laika continue their fascination with outcasts and here the outsiders of Cheesebridge are little green trolls living in their own underground society. There’s a touch of Despicable Me’s minions about them - their language of gibberish and aptitude for invention that rivals Wallace and Gromit. The boxtrolls have been blamed for the kidnap and murder of a boy - who they have actually raised as one of their own - and are being hunted down by the merciless Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley).
For all it’s visual beauty, The Boxtrolls shares similar flaws with its predecessor ParaNorman: a muddled story, longwinded finale and annoying characters. The boxtrolls themselves - less endearing and comedic than their Despicable Me counterparts - struggle to deliver much for adult viewers. Elle Fanning’s wooden voicework does little for the already aggravating character of Winnie, who seeks parental love while endlessly ruminating on the bloodthirsty deeds of the boxtrolls. Her friend Eggs - the Mowgli of this Jungle Book style tale - is equally forgettable in his own lack of personality.
As for the story, fathers, families, the difference between right and wrong, all grapple for the film’s main emotional focus. All but the latter fail to sink their teeth into anything new. Nick Frost and Richard Ayoade rescue The Boxtrolls from the completely banal as Snatcher’s two henchmen, Trout and Pickles - actually innocent civilians who believe they’re fighting evil. Asked if they think the boxtrolls really are wicked child kidnappers, the duo reply ‘They must be, why else would they hide? We are the good guys after all’. This irony is the film’s main source of comedy and cleverly strikes on the complexity of good and evil for The Boxtrolls’ adult audience.
It’s easy to forgive The Boxtrolls’ flaws whenever Trout and Pickles appear on-screen but the film’s real strength lies in its remarkable stop motion. Each frame is imbued with a dark, energetic imagination and, despite the mismatched quality of Laika’s storytelling, it’s difficult to pry eyes away. An unmissable end credits sequence pays homage to the technical feats of The Boxtrolls’ animators. It’s worth the ticket price alone.
Running Time: 97 minutes