*** out of ****
I hope stop-motion animation never goes away, though I won’t be surprised if it does. As long as companies like Laika Entertainment continue utilizing a process, which is almost as old as cinema itself, we can expect a little more life from its unique essence. The special-effect value of stop-motion animation lost its place in live-action movies the day Jurassic Park hit theaters. Since then, it has maintained its traditional value in the realm of fully animated shorts and features where choppy motion is acceptable.
Laika (formerly Will Vinton Studios) has made vast improvements in the profession using new technology to improve the handmade process for smoother animation consistency in their films; such as, Coraline, ParaNorman and now, The Boxtrolls. I’ve oftentimes observed that handmade art is about the challenge of polishing while digital art is about the challenge of blemishing. The Boxtrolls has stop-motion so well realized, that its quality meets its opponent at the halfway point with the deliberately clunky digital animation of this year’s wonderful, The Lego Movie.
The story follows a boy raised by bug-eating, junk-collecting yet well-meaning trolls. They dwell beneath the streets of an otherworldly town built on a tall steep hill. The town has a hierarchy of class identified by hat color. The bigwig “white hats” share a love of fine cheeses. A despicable troll exterminator is determined to rise to their status, which he believes will be granted if he hunts down all the Boxtrolls. As his hunt thins out the trolls’ workforce, their adopted boy goes to the surface on a mission to find the missing workers.
The town Lord’s neglected daughter, with a dark obsession for all things grim and dangerous, notices the boy. After learning where he comes from, she helps him under the assumption that he will lead her to see the creatures she has been raised to believe are fascinating vicious monsters.
Based on the children’s novel, Here Be Monsters, Boxtrolls is delightfully strange, channeling the whimsy of old European children’s tales. Some visionary filmmakers made family films like this when I was a kid. Speaking from experience, this is the kind of stuff to which I was exposed during childhood, but grew to like much more in my teens.
I don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression when I say that this is a kid’s flick with adults in mind, but I felt like I was getting more out of this movie than the children in attendance. I laughed quite loud during a couple sequences when the only child reaction I heard I heard was, “Eeewww!” This was probably out of disgust for the overt grotesque horror that the film’s villain displays when he has allergic reactions to cheese. I was slightly reminded of Mr. Creosote in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life and couldn’t contain myself.
The movie is a fun-spirited story about good ways and bad ways of establishing one’s identity. The bumbling British caricatures are creatively modeled with plenty of personality enhanced by a voice cast that is best left for discovering during the movie’s entertaining end credits (seriously, stick around).
This is an animated movie aimed at a particular niche audience and there is no guarantee that they will help it make a decent box office return. It’s a hard sell to show a family film that most little kids or overprotective parents may not like but its only appropriate that innocent, yet deranged, material should be delivered through the outcast method of stop-motion. I’m happy that this movie exists.