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The Boxtrolls

Stitching together the sensibilities of Tim Burton and Roald Dahl, The Boxtrolls is a warm and witty excursion through the weird and wonderful.
By Sarah Ward
September 22, 2014
By Sarah Ward
September 22, 2014

"They're more scared of us than we are of them," many mothers have told their offspring, soothing fears of monsters, spiders and other scary forces — and in The Boxtrolls, the adage proves accurate. The village of Cheesebridge is intent on exterminating the cardboard-wearing, subterranean-dwelling titular creatures, driven by tales of child stealing, people eating, and rivers of blood. All the benevolent grey critters want, however, is to play with junk and tinker with machines.

A lost baby is the source of the boxtrolls' bad reputation, after the villainous Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) convinces the townsfolk of their involvement. A decade later, the missing boy has been raised by his new pals and christened Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), happy in his existence beneath the streets. Then Winifred (Elle Fanning) spots him, her morbid curiosity soon turning to affinity. Alas, Snatcher's pursuit continues, with the rest of the populace ambivalent to the girl's protests.

From animators Laika, The Boxtrolls is steeped in the offbeat and styled in the eccentric; this is the stop-motion studio that brought Coraline and ParaNorman to life, after all. Adapted from Alan Snow's novel Here Be Monsters!, the film shares many aspects with their previous hits: gorgeously grotesque imagery, smart gags slipped amongst endearing detail, a winning blend of the sweet and surreal, and intelligent messages for young and old.

With a steampunk aesthetic, directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi lovingly revel in their intricate world, complete with rusting metal, slops of mud, unattractive adults and more. They remain unafraid of letting the harshness of life manifest in the gothic look, albeit lightened by the sense of adventure, the cuteness of the boxtrolls, a celebration of cheese (food, not corniness) and a story concerned with acceptance outside the norm.

The weighty themes don't stop there, nor does the studio's penchant for a specific type of material. Outcast children find fondness in things typically considered strange, looking beyond accepted bounds to discover their identities and values. Open-mindedness is championed, just as the blinkered view of most — Snatcher's coveting of social-climbing grandeur, and Winifred's father's (Jared Harris) preference for dairy over his daughter — is skewered. The thoughtful feature even contemplates self-determination and the outsourcing of immoral deeds to the poor through the comic conversations of Snatcher's employees, voiced by Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost and Tracy Morgan.

Such high-profile casting tops the delightfully dark film, its talent deepening the characters rather than merely inciting the usual celebrity spotting (although Ayoade and Frost's banter is always a treat). Stitching together the sensibilities of Tim Burton and Roald Dahl, The Boxtrolls is a warm and witty excursion through the weird and wonderful, as well as a true slice of cinematic enjoyment for all ages.

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