The Boxtrolls

Posted on September 25, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action, some peril and mild rude humor
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Cartoon-style peril and some violence, comic allergic reaction, references to disturbing violence, some gross images
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 26, 2014
Date Released to DVD: January 19, 2015 ASIN: B00HLTDARS
Copyright LAIKA Studios 2014

LAIKA Studios (Paranorman and Coraline) has created another  loveably crooked world, this time inspired by Alan Snow’s Here Be Monsters! (The Ratbridge Chronicles).  It’s their first period setting, a sort of slightly bent Edwardian with a touch of steampunk, in the town of Cheesebridge.  LAIKA’s motto may be “No straight lines, no right angles, no perfect circles,” but this wobbly community is rigidly stratified, with the White Hats at the top of society, nibbling on exotic cheeses in the elegant Tasting Room and hosting elegant parties, the lower class Red Hats desperate to be accepted by them. There is an entirely separate group, the gentle Boxtrolls, who live underneath the city, turning rubbish into Rube Goldbergian machines and tending their garden.  They are called Boxtrolls because of their attire — discarded cardboard boxes.  And their names come from the boxes they wear: Fish, Fragile, Shoes, and Specs.

And then there is Eggs (Isaac Hempsted Wright).  He thinks he is a Boxtroll, but he is a human, left as a baby by his father, who was trying to keep him safe.  Apparently Cheesbridge follows Noam Chomsky’s theories of language: while the Boxtrolls speak in a sort of mumbly pidgin talk, Eggs speaks flawless and rather aristocratic-sounding English.  Their happy life is disturbed by Snatcher (Sir Ben Kingsley), the leader of the Red Hats, who conducts raids to capture the Boxtrolls.  He knows they are harmless, but he has persuaded the White Hats that the Boxtrolls capture and eat human children so that they will depend on him to exterminate them.  If Snatcher gets rid of all of them, the Mayor of Cheesebridge has promised to give him a White Hat and allow him into the sanctum sanctorum, the Tasting Room.  There is one problem, though.  Snatcher, despite his protestations to the contrary, is massively lactose-intolerant.

Mayor Lord Portly-Rind (Jared Harris) and his wife Lady Portly-Rind (Toni Collette) have a daughter named Winnie (Elle Fanning, the sister of “Coraline” star Dakota Fanning).  She longs for them to pay attention to her.  Their neglect has led her to develop a macabre fascination with what she imagines are the atrocities of the Boxtrolls and she decides to investigate.  When she finds out that the Boxtrolls are harmless, she agrees to help Eggs tell her father that Snatcher has lied.  Eggs will need to be persuaded that he is in fact human and then taught some of the basics of human interaction so that he can deliver the message.

The word “immersive” is often used to describe movies with 3D effects that seem to make the images surround the viewer by extending both in front of and behind the screen.  But LAIKA’s films are more deeply immersive than that because of the intricacy of the world they create.  Most animated movies use miles of code to show us how every individual hair in an animal’s fur rustles in the wind.  But the handmade touch and infinite care of LAIKA’s stop-motion films, where figures and props are nudged ever so slightly for each individual frame and craftspeople spend months creating practical (not digital or virtual) effects to evoke water, fire, and clouds, creates an environment that is tantalizingly complex and invites many viewings to explore its wonders.

LAIKA is perfectionist in its dedication to not being perfect.  It embraces the messiness of life.  The Boxtrolls’ cavern is grimy and dank, and the Portly-Rind home filled with dessicated finery, but both are brimming with endlessly inventive detail, especially the elaborate mechanics of the Boxtrolls’ cave and the meticulous choreography of the White Hats’ ball.  Every single object reflects the care taken by the filmmakers and every detail reflects some element of character and story, which are messy as well.  Winnie, who has so much, is lonely and neglected.  But she is brave and honest.

Eggs, who has so little, is surrounded by love.  He is loyal and courageous.  And Snatcher, who is so desperate for acceptance that he will don an elaborate disguise, make libelous accusations, and put his health and even his life at risk, is ultimately not really able to destroy the Boxtrolls.  His henchmen, played by Tracey Morgan, Nick Frost, and Richard Ayoade are less wicked than existentially confused, trying to persuade themselves that they are on the right side.

The visuals are deliciously grotesque at times, but the message is a sweet one: families come in all sizes and shapes, sometimes biological, sometimes not, but what defines them is love.

NOTE: Be sure to stay through the credits to see some existential ponderings by the characters and a brief cameo by animator/CEO Travis Knight.

Parents should know that there are some comic but grotesque and macabre images.  Characters are in peril and apparently killed, though shown later to be imprisoned.  A character appears to have lost his mind.  Another character explodes (offscreen).

Family discussion: Why was it so important for Snatcher to be a White Hat?  Why didn’t Winnie’s parents pay more attention to her?  Why did some of the Red Hats think they were the good guys?

If you like this, try: “Coraline,” “Paranorman,” and “Monster House”

Related Tags:


3D Animation Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy For the Whole Family Scene After the Credits Stories About Kids

3 Replies to “The Boxtrolls”

  1. One of the other themes is the indifference of the parents to the child. For children who have a parent like this, unfortunately too many, this may create anxiety if the child is still seeking a parent’s attention and love.

    1. Thanks, Blawthomp, that is one reason I flagged it as an issue in my review. However, this is a pervasive theme in stories for children, which are an important way to help them deal with the anxieties of independence, and I think the film’s conclusion that if we do not get what we need from our families of origin, we can create our own is a reassuring message for children.

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