Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi’s “The Boxtrolls”

the-boxtrolls-int-trlr-640The Boxtrolls, based on the 2005 Alan Snow novel Here Be Monsters!, is the most awesome out-of-control ride we’ll probably take this year, like a Burtonized Dickens of the Caribbean-on-a-sugar-and-caffeine-fix awesome, with its winding twists and turns through the cramped streets and bowels of the fictional, very English town of Cheesebridge, where everything revolves around, you guessed it, cheese. (Case in point, the one-man-bandsman named Hal Varti.) This is because the stop-motion animation from Latka Studios (Coraline, ParaNorman) is sublime. The titular trolls zipping about in their spacious Rube Goldberg-like subterranean digs— into which they enter on a very cool helixed conveyor belt and leave by being sucked out through a giant vacuum— and completely concealing their little limbs inside their corrugated armor like demonic turtles before stacking themselves as if they were cases of paper at a Staples is oddly reminiscent of the evil-scissors brigade from the 1991 Henry Selick masterpiece Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions.

These gray-skinned Lilliputians, who are basically the distant ugly cousins of the Minions from Despicable Me and sound like a pack of Jawas when they speak, eerily emerge from beneath cobblestoned manholes, eyes aglow like cats, to begin their nightly salvaging from the Cheesebridge garbage supply. They’re also feared by the locals for kidnapping and cannibalizing children whenever they’re not taking anything that isn’t nailed down; a panicked hand zips out a front door and yanks off the front-door mounted mailbox. Thus the presence of a team of specialized exterminators led by the film’s main baddie, Archibald Snatcher, who looks like a greasy Timothy Spall and talks like Ben Kingsley, is brought in by the haughty Lord Portley-Rind to get rid of them. Meanwhile, entertainment in the town square consists of a stage show that serves only to mock these creatures. Only the audience knows the Boxtrolls won’t have a malicious bone in their bodies. They are the title characters, after all, and unbeknownst to the ignorant citizenry, they have spent the past decade raising an orphaned boy named Eggs (as in the egg crate he wears), who truly believes he’s more troll than human.

Yes, The Boxtrolls is another misunderstood-creatures-persecuted-by-evil-humans movie, and Eggs will have to experience the real world for the first time in his short life, meaning the obligatory fish-out-of-water scenes. But the picture avoids typecasting itself by way of aptly addressing the always-relevant issues of fearmongering and the placing of one’s value solely on material possessions, supported by a solid cast with my personal favorite being the always-perfect Richard Ayoade as Snatcher’s lovably gawky toadie, Mr. Pickles (who’s also featured in a brilliant end-credits treat), and compounded with a fair amount of sophisticated humor—nothing is laugh-out-loud, but there’s not one single gross-out joke anywhere. Therefore, it’s all the more disappointing that the film can’t maintain its momentum through the third act, instead settling for an unnecessarily long and bombastic conclusion while suffering from false-climax syndrome that itself relies on the age-old convention of foppish adults blatantly refusing to listen to children, and even less excusable is that without it, the credits would’ve rolled about thirty minutes early. Still, if we want to go ahead and compare ye olde English stop-motion pictures, The Boxtrolls is everything that Aardman’s disappointing The Pirates! Band of Misfits should have been two years ago.

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