Laika’s “Boxtrolls” Shows Us They’ve Still Got It
By Scott Kurland
Film: The Boxtrolls
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Elle Fanning, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost, and Simon Pegg
Animation was one of Roger Ebert’s vices. The man couldn’t get enough of it. If you asked him his favorite “Batman” movie, he’d say “Mask Of The Phantasm”. What he loved the most was stop-motion, Ebert once deidcated an entire episode to Aardman and “Wallace and Gromit”. It’s a shame he was to sick to see the rise of stop-motion studio Laika. Not only are they a stop-motion studio, but their films have the darkness and heart Ebert said an animated picture should have. If you remember my review of their previous film “ParaNorman” not only did I give that film an A, but in my opinion it’s one of the best animated films of all time. That’s why I nearly I am so happy to review this week’s film “The Boxtrolls” a twisted, sweet, and well animated film about family.
Taking place in the fictional land of Cheesebridge, the town exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) informs the town Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) that the boxtrolls have taken a child. However, Snatcher has a more nefarious plan, he believes if he captures all the boxtrolls he’ll be able to become a member of high society. Yet, we pan forward ten years and learn that the Boxtrolls did not kidnap the child. They saved the young boy now named Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) from Snatcher and his band of Red Hats (Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost, and Tracy Morgan). As all the Boxtrolls start to vanish it’s up to Eggs with the aid of a young girl named Winnie (Elle Fanning) to save his family.
This film has two examples of amazing forms voice acting. The first comes from the Boxtrolls themselves, veteran voice actors Steve Blum of “Cowboy BeBop” fame and Dee Bradley Baker Perry the Platypus from “Phineas and Ferb” voice the trolls. How they communicate with each other is astonishing, it’s a combination of broken English and animal snarls. Even though you can’t understand the words what they’re saying you can understand their message. That’s acting at it’s finest, communicating dialog so mangled and unintelligible you know it doesn’t need a translation. This is why it’s great they used voice actors, seasoned professionals who everyday stretch and mold there voices. Sure they could have gotten a Bill Hader SNL celebrity to voice them, but giving professional voice actors from series a chance to breakthrough into cinema not only helps them but it makes the movie better. Alright I’ll get off my soapbox now and move on to the second best vocal performance.
The second example comes from the great Richard Ayoade as Mr. Pickles one of the villains who believes he’s actually one of the good guys. Not only is his dialog hysterical with how blunt it is he’s so over the top and brilliant with his subtlety. If you are familiar with Ayoade and his work with “The Mighty Boosh” or “The IT Crowd” you know what an underrated genius he is. Heres a man who can take the blandest lines and make them hysterical, whether it’s keen observations or absent minded behavior. Ayoade is brilliant and I would pay just for a Mr. Pickles and Mr. Trout movie because he’s such a laugh riot.
I was very impressed with this film as a whole, not just the characters, but the entire aesthetic and feel of this film is pure magic. The feel of this film is half Dickens and half Guillermo Del Toro with Tim Burton humor sprinkled on top. The detail of these characters are so pristine, so developed, and in all honesty very life like. Each Boxtroll has a personality, and characteristic. The cheese has a certain number of holes and texture. Each townsperson in Cheesbridge has so feature that sticks out from the rest. Directors Annable and Stacchi have built this world to be so realistic and over the top. The home of the Boxtrolls is so full of life and Cheesebridge is so drap and bleak no life. Each of these places has a personality, it’s quite an impressive undertaking the directors have achieved.
“The Boxtrolls” is one of the most ambitious films of the year target for a child audience. A lot of the humor is aimed for adults, for example. Snatcher likes to dress in drag and seduce the elders of the town, and whenLord Portley-Rind realizes it he says aloud implying he had the hots for Snatcher’s alter ego Miss. Frou Frou. Yes, it’s a little dark, but it’s super funny and parents will get a chuckle. Although, in my most humble opinion this is no where the caliber of “ParaNorman”, “The Boxtrolls” is a heartwarming film that is impressive on many levels. Kids, Teens, Adults young and old will love this film. This is another massive success for Laika.
REVIEW RATING: A-