The Boxtrolls – “Poignant and inventive and as much fun as it is bold in its statements…”

Despicable Me has a lot to answer for. Not only has it spawned a sequel, with a “”spin-off” later this year in Minions, but it has manufactured the specific creature that little kids will die imitating (perhaps loudly shouting “bottom”, as you walk through the supermarket). But The Boxtrolls, looking like an uglier, gothic cousin to the minions, is nothing to apologise for. Looking like Aardman animation meets Abe’s Odyssey, The Boxtrolls contains much more than empty crates and annoying little creatures. More creative and considerably more profound, The Boxtrolls is much more than a Despicable Me imitator.

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Boxtrolls lurk underground. They mess up the streets at night and, with their muddy boxes and cluttered manner, are feared by the community they live beneath. Stories claim they are responsible for kidnapping children and carnival-performances are played out to ensure the public know how dangerous they are.  Of course, they are no threat. Introducing Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) as the villainous, desperate older gent who seeks a place at the table amongst the upper-class (termed as the “white hats”), the boxtrolls are his sworn enemy – despite their cheeky, playful manner. Indeed, the boxtrolls themselves are creatures with love to give and we see, akin to Monsters Inc, the raising of a child in their company. Named after the boxes they wear, “Fish” adopts human-in-a-box, “Eggs” (voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright, aka ‘Bran’ from Game of Thrones, and looking a little like one of The Riddlers). In an innovative twist, it is the daughter of the esteemed ‘white hat’ Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), Winnie (Elle Fanning), who clashes into Eggs one night. This forces the two to confront their differences while taking down the evil Mr Snatcher.

Of course, the synopsis could be as simple as “boxtrolls have to defeat snatcher”. But The Boxtrolls is more nuanced than that. Amongst the ramshackle underground home and steam-punk world they inhabit, there are revolutionary and bold statements made. Other than the greedy, cheese-obsessed Archibald Snatcher, very few others can be simply-defined baddies. The snooty white-hat wearers are arrogant, but considered misguided. Even the two henchmen (voiced expertly by Richard Ayoade and Nick Frost) are confused by Snatcher’s actions, as it slowly dawns on them that they are indeed “henchmen” (By the same token, the final gag during the credits goes even further as they muse on their existence, becoming one of the most intelligent and inspired jokes in animation.)

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The winding tracks and creaky buildings that we walk down is a feast for the eyes. Tim Burton would surely get a kick out of the long-legged and bulging-bellies of the humans. The British tone of Aardman animation shines through, and the boxtrolls even seem to channel the trolls from Frozen a tad. But, unlike the cookie-cutter morals of most Disney and Dreamworks fare, the “makers of Paranorman and Coraline” tell a story that clearly draws parallels to our modern world. In a moment of frustration, boxtroll “fish” becomes incredibly angry, almost living up to the horror stories that we were told. It is brief and inconsequential, but a sobering moment as the parallel between anger and victimisation is drawn. In the final confrontation between Snatcher and Eggs, Snatcher tells him “they’ll never accept us…” What connects these two vastly opposing characters? Who does Snatcher believe “they” are? All is revealed when watching The Boxtrolls.

The ballooning abscesses as allergic-to-cheese Snatcher forces himself to eat brie is gross, colourful and guaranteed to make you laugh. The comedy is intelligent, the animation expert and the story is thoroughly engaging. The Boxtrollsis poignant and inventive and as much fun as it is bold in its statements.

This post was originally written for Flickering Myth in September 2014

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2 comments

  1. I don’t want to burst your bubble but the raising child was not present in Monsters, Inc. I don’t understand how somebody thought of that. Also, Eggs looks nothing like The Riddlers.

    • Thanks Pinkarray –

      I think, though Mosnters Inc doesn’t explicit show the long-term changes in a child, Sully and Mike are surrogate parents and though they change, Boo changes too, realising that Randall isn’t really that scary after all. This clearly is ‘akin’ (similar) to Boxtrolls, as Eggs realises the fearsome Boxtrolls aren’t scary either.

      But I’m afraid The Riddlers were what first came to mind when looking at the animation of Eggs. Surely ‘looks nothing like’ is a little unfair.

      In any case, thanks for your comment! I hope you enjoyed Boxtrolls as much as I did!

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