It may not be the most conventional way to begin a review but I think in this case a disclaimer is needed.
Within the We Make Movies on Weekends family, I am known as the stop-motion animation girl. I do adore the medium and think it is beyond magical. It is also fair to admit that when it comes to the stop-motion studio Laika, I am something of a fan girl. This is not to say that I cannot watch a Laika film without that bias and the high anticipation has been met with latest film Kubo and the Two Strings. So to celebrate the new release, I’m taking a look bac at The Boxtrolls.
The film is set in a small town where the inhabitants live in perpetual fear of creatures that lurk below the ground. The creatures, or Boxtrolls, are in fact gentle beings that forage for junk the upper world discards. When the Boxtrolls are given care of a baby called Eggs, (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) they raise the boy as one of their own. Growing up in the sewers Eggs watches his family numbers dwindle as the vicious Archibald Snatcher, (Ben Kingsley) captures many of his friends. Yet with the help of a curious girl called Winnie, (Elle Fanning) Eggs tries to save his friend and unite the upper and lower worlds.
Laika may still be a baby studio but what a run they have had. The studio, that was the result of a merger between Nike founder Phil Knight and Will Vinton Studios, have made quite a name for themselves. Beginning with an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline back in 2009. The studio then produced an originally written feature film with ParaNorman in 2012. Their third offering, The Boxtrolls, is an adaptation of Alan Snow’s novel Here Be Monsters!
The film has a brilliant opening, beginning when the Boxtrolls mysteriously acquire Eggs. We see the boy grow as the Boxtrolls begin to disappear. This is beautifully demonstrated by the image of the decreasing box pile the creatures make at night for Eggs to sleep upon. When the boy reaches ten he begins to question the world around him. Immediately, the audience are drawn to the young lead and his loving, if strange family. The central dynamic is between Eggs and his closest troll carer Fish, (each Boxtroll named after their boxes original inhabited item). This grows as Fish is captured and Eggs meets Winnie, a girl from the upper world. The film brilliantly keeps this pace as its characters face mounting peril at the hands of Snatcher. Yet the film is not all doom and gloom.
Like most stop-motion features the film lends itself to the more bizarre style of storytelling. Not only is the films central cast mumbling sewer dwellers but there is an abundance of talk on crushed bones and rivers of blood. For squeamish children or adults this may seem inappropriate for a family film. To those who appreciate good irony, the idea that the caring little creatures are vicious is hilarious. As well as irony, the film is filled with puns, jokes, cheese and a touch of cross dressing. The humour has enough slapstick and visuals to satisfy younger audiences while adults will appreciate the films ironic tone and ‘in jokes’.
In terms of animation, stop-motion is a notoriously pain staking form. An hour and a half feature, with a full crew, crafting models and sets, will take between two to three years. Every single frame of movement must be timed perfectly and slowly moved to produce eventual movement.
For backgrounds and sets the usual idea would be to avoid mass detail to save on manpower and costs. But not Laika.
The studio have taken stop-motion to new levels with their craftsmanship. Every single scene and setting has been lavished with texture and detail, you just have to look at the town setting. Each house is given the tinniest of detail individual to itself. Alone this may seem insignificant but when this level of care is put on every single structure the result is truly breath taking.
As for the Boxtroll’s themselves the animators have produced cute and expressive creatures that are able to communicate fluently despite their lack of coherent speech. The humans are equally strong also taking on a more surreal form. Misshapen with unrealistic proportions many of the humans feel more beastly than the trolls themselves but without the cuteness. All characters, whether human or troll, still display charm which audience will love to watch fill the screen.
The films diverse voice cast is led by Game of Thrones star Isaac Hemptead-Wright. Wright mangers to give the young Eggs an awkward charm that grows as the boy tries to save his family. Ben Kingsley plays the films villain, (as per usual) and is able to infuse Snatcher with a slimy and cruel edge befitting a great baddie. His voice also works for the characters interesting alter ego, (has to be seen to be believed). Elle Fanning’s British accent in Maleficent may have been hard on the ears but here its improved leaps and bounds. The character may seem at first spoiled and unsympathetic but Fanning is able to soften the strange girl as the film progresses.
In no ways a conventional family film but a gem none the less. Beautiful, funny, strange and charming Laika delivered a film much like its two previous efforts and the new releases. With great humour, lively characters and it’s most lush animation yet. For all us fangirling over Laika’s work, this is a must. For those who have not had the pleasure, prepare to be amazed.