The Boxtrolls (2014) Review

Smart, funky and slyly captivating, “The Boxtrolls” is the latest 3D stop motion feature film from American animation studio Laika. An adaptation of Alan Snow’s novel “Here Be Monsters!”, the film tells the story of the quirky town of Cheesebridge, a city-state beset by a plague of monstrous baby-eating trolls who prowl the streets at night, or so socially ambitious exterminator Archibald Snatcher would have you believe. Striking a deal to join the city’s elite White Hats once he kills every last Boxtroll, Snatcher’s ambitions are threatened by a young orphaned boy raised by the Boxtrolls who joins forces with the daughter of the leader of Cheesebridge.

As you’d expect from the studio that brought you “Coraline” and “ParaNorman”, this is witty, sophisticated family entertainment. Every facet of the production design is exquisitely grotesque – or is it grotesquely exquisite? Like Quentin Blake illustrations brought to luridly coloured, three-dimensional life, the Boxtrolls themselves burst with ingenuity and personality, giving “Despicable Me”’s Minions a real run for their money in the entertainment stakes. Blake’s frequent collaborator Roald Dahl would not doubt approve of the story’s darker and more gruesome aspects and there are plenty of thrills and scares to go along with the fun and whimsy. There’s even some razor-sharp social commentary in the mix too, enriching the story and characterisations without ever feeling preachy or polemic.

The voice cast is tremendous, with Ben Kingsley’s snarlingly obsequious Archibald Snatcher – one of 2014’s most memorable and hissable villains – an obvious standout. In a marvellous touch, Snatcher’s three henchmen (played by Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade and Tracy Morgan) are given story arcs of their own as they question whether or not they are truly on the side of good. Well, two of them do at least.

The thing about stop motion movies is that you can usually expect a certain level of quality because they take so long and require dedication and commitment to finish and “The Boxtrolls” is no exception. There’s a real sense of pride and passion in every frame of this film and rightly so because it’s a real treat. I fully expect this to be one of The Mertmas’ favourite films of the year, if not all time. He absolutely loved it and was glued to the screen throughout. So captivated was he that his popcorn went virtually untouched and his bag of sweets made it home unopened.

Now that the glut of family-friendly dross has drained out of the multiplexes, it’s time for this artful, creative film to get the limelight it deserves. Oh, and if you do go and see it, be sure to stay in your seats as the credits roll for one of the most delightful mid-credits sequences I’ve ever seen as Laika put the meta into metaphysical as two of the characters debate the nature of free will while the filmmakers let you peek behind the curtain. Wonderful stuff.