The Boxtrolls welcome you to the shy, sly, clever underground.
I saw the previews and I was not really very impressed. I’d never even heard of the book “Here Be Monsters!” by Alan Snow until I saw it in the credits after the film. I genuinely had no idea what to expect or what I was walking into. What I found was a sweet, complexly simple, slightly cheese-obsessed story, about a boy figuring out what it means to be human.
The story tries to jump right in, but it moved a bit slowly during the first half of the movie. I found myself getting distracted and squirming in my seat wanting it to move faster. Looking back on it, the pace suited the completed movie but it’s something to be aware of during a first viewing, when one might get bored and give up 20 minutes into the film.
The animation style is not one of my favorites. It’s a very painted looking claymation, that suits the story, but doesn’t appeal to me personally. I did find it difficult to watch in places, because they also didn’t shy away from being gross; something I am certain little kids are going to love. However, once I adjusted it was easy to forget it was animated at all and get drawn into the story.
The premise is that a baby is raised by the subterranean population of Boxtrolls. There is an exterminator, Archibald Snatcher, voiced by Ben Kingsley, who has convinced the citizens of Cheesebridge that Boxtrolls are evil monsters who eat babies. His goal is to get himself into the aristocracy of the town and earn himself a white hat. The film is very aware of it’s portrayal of class and privilege.
It comes right out and says that privilege is something you can’t earn, you just have it. The films awareness of it’s symbolism makes it easier to deal with the obviousness of it’s mocking of lords and leadership. At one point they choose to spend the money raised for a Children’s Hospital on a “Bree-hemoth” an enormous cheese wheel that could crush several people; a comparison that could be too much even for satyre if the movie didn’t seem to know that as well.
If Mr. Snatcher’s name is a bit on the nose, his plan is more complex and entertaining. Also, for all the clear villainy of Snatcher’s role, his three henchmen are much more endearing. I immediately recognized the voice of Richard Ayoade as Mr. Pickles; though it took me some time to identify Nick Frost as Mr. Trout.
These two have an adorable, ongoing, morality conversation throughout the movie. They constantly wonder about the Boxtrolls choosing to be evil. The two discuss how they are heroes at length as they net the shy creatures hiding in their boxes. With each action in the plan to destroy the boxtrolls the discussion continues about whether this is really something a hero would do, or if they might actually be more and more villianish. This conversation is more than amusing and pointed, it contributes to the endearing self-awareness of the movie.
The third of Snatcher’s henchmen doesn’t say a whole lot so it wasn’t until the end I realized it was in fact Tracy Morgan voicing Mr. Gristle. The list of fun guests goes on and on with Lord Portley-Rind voiced by Jared Harris, Elle Fanning as Winnie Portley-Rind, and Simon Pegg as the slightly jelly obsessed Herbert Trubshaw, to name a few.
This movie isn’t perfect, but it’s one I am considering purchasing for children in my own life. That all on it’s own says something: It’s endearing and funny enough that I’m willing to subject myself and their parents to tens, even hundreds of viewings.