Tuesday, September 30, 2014

[Review] The Boxtrolls

The Boxtrolls is the third feature release from Laika Entertainment, the studio renowned for their unique and subversive style of stop-motion animation. Their craft is still commendable here, but The Boxtrolls can't help but feel like a slight step down in terms of storytelling. It lacks the haunting inventiveness of Coraline, as well as the wit and meaningful spine of ParaNorman

In the land of Cheesebridge, a haughty neighborhood rests on a tall hill. Beneath it, lies the underground steam-punk lair of the Boxtrolls. The Boxtrolls are little critters that each occupy their own cardboard box, as a turtle would with its shell. They speak their own language in throaty voices, reminiscent of the friendly side of Gollum from Lord of the Rings. Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) is a human boy who was raised with the Boxtrolls ever since he was a baby (his backstory reveals later).

There's a misconception between the two societies, and the town-folk think the Boxtrolls are dangerous flesh-eaters, but that couldn't be further from the truth. However, the film's despicable villain, Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), devises a plan to capture all the Boxtrolls. And thus, Eggs must rise to the occasion and come out of his shell in order to rescue the Boxtrolls, with some help from Winnie (Elle Fanning), a curious girl he befriends.

It's actually a reasonably familiar story of nature vs nurture and the role reversals of good & evil. A couple of Snatcher's henchmen even contemplate if what they're doing is right or wrong throughout the entire film. Similar themes were explored in the recent watercolor tale Ernest and Celestine. While the concept is agreeable, it just isn't as bold or rich as the subjects conveyed in past Laika efforts. Even the humor pales in comparison to the wild shenanigans of Coraline and ParaNorman. When Eggs ventures into town, the usual fish-out-of-water gags run amok. A few smirk and chuckleworthy moments bite, but nothing too rambunctious. And unless I somehow missed it, the scene with the farting Boxtroll from the previews isn't in the movie and that's pretty disappointing.

The film also lacks some of the creepier "how did this get into a kids movie?" imagery from the other two installments. Not that this needed to be scary, but it's another void element that places this in the lesser section of Laika. But even considering some of these gripes, the film is never bad--it's just that it's a seen-it-before template placed within a stop-motion, clay-mation world. Speaking of the animation, though, it's wonderful here. The steam-punk motif cranks in a lot of kinetic energy within the Burton-like set designs, and the clay beings all look delightfully weird. It's hard not to think of all the meticulous, tedious, and back-breaking work that went into just a few seconds from each scene.

The Boxtrolls carries some disappointments, but this isn't stopping me from looking forward to whatever Laika still has to offer.


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