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Tuesday
Oct212014

Top Ten: Best of The Boxtrolls

Because it was so much fun last week, another all top ten tuesday to celebrate our new season as the awards will soon come rushing at us...

People aren't talking about The Boxtrolls enough. It's a true mark against the world's parents that numerous animated mediocrities, The Peabodys, Nutjobs and Rios regularly and considerably outgross inventive Laika's awesome stop-motion films. While it's true that Laika's features have elements of the grotesque or macabre that are tougher sells to nonadventurous families, one only has to look at the perennial universal love for Nightmare Before Christmas to know that people are okay with that once they acclimate.

Which is very much my personal experience with The Boxtrolls. It's less immediately sympathetic than ParaNorman, less hook-laden than The Corpse Bride, less immediately fantastical than Coraline but once you get past the initial shock of the character designs (which has undoubtedly been an obstacle): blotched, deformed, dirty, jagged teeth and so on, the movie grows on you. It's another technical triumph in the service of a story that works on both juvenile and adult levels. Sure, it's not their best film but it's still a singular one in the current animated marketplace.

Since I never reviewed The Boxtrolls, consider this one of those in top ten form and a plea for those of you who haven't seen to correct that. To any awards voters reading who are just beginning to consider the Animated Feature Film category just know that it could be very rich with variety if you choose well this year.

THE BOXTROLL'S GREATEST HITS
after the jump...

10 STACKING
It's daring to build a story around ugly garbage collectors who cant really speak but worries that you can't spend a whole movie with these creepy night-roaming creatures are dispelled with one scene. When bed time hits and they stack themselves so perfectly and cutely in a big tight pile of love, like puppies in a litter, they're nearly impossible to resist. Eggs (the protagonist, a little boy raised by the trolls) is lifted up to switch out the light, and the importance of family and friends, a subtheme of the movie, immediately switches on. 

09 HIGH SOCIETY 
Meanwhile above ground we're regularly treated to stuffy high society gatherings in the town of Cheesebridge some with dancing and all with awesome tiny costumes. The heavily populated scenes are a marvel of impossibly busy animated coordination. The peak of these scenes is when Eggs is brought to a gathering by his new friend Winnie (Elle Fanning) and she has much trouble teaching him how to behave like a human "It's a pleasure to meet you"

08 CHEESE-MANIA
Lord Portley-Rind, Winnie's father and respected leader of the community, is obsessed with cheese and this obsession is shared by nearly all the wealthy people and also doubles as an aspirational obsesssion for the less well-to-do and the villain Snatcher who has been hired to exterminate the boxtrolls. I don't want to spoil anything about Snatcher's relationship to cheese or especially the hilarious brie-specific climax but let's just say its gigantically awesome. 

"a father's the one who raises you, loves you, looks after you."

07 FATHERHOOD
Eggs was either abducted or rescued by the boxtrolls as a baby (a mystery) when he was orphaned. Winnie has to explain the concept of a father to him. And as she does, she realizes how orphaned she is too, figuratively speaking, since Lord Portley-Rind and her mother pay her almost no attention. It's a beautiful moment of melancholy between more frantic scenes. 

06 ADULT THEMES
Most contemporary American animated films, with the exception of the top Pixar films, have forgotten that you can be appealing for children while also not boring their parents. Earn both audiences! The best films for children feature adults themes that little kids might not fully register until much later even as late in some cases as when they're introducing their childhood favorites to their own kids. The Boxtrolls really delivers in this regard with plenty of political commentary (often hidden within great jokes). The coveted white hat indicates privilege, prestige, position and everyone wants it.

05 HEROICS, SPREAD OUT
While Eggs is our protagonist he's not the only Do-Gooder. It's a real pleasure to see a movie where there isn't a "chosen one" who everything rests on, but a team effort and cooperation that saves the day. (That's such healthier subtle messaging for kids). A handful of other characters rise up with heroics to contribute to the happy ending, rather than all of it ceded to Eggs.

04 BABY EGGS
This gif above is adorable in a demented way which is exactly the experience of watching Baby Eggs who is a totally cute little guy but not a regular human child. In the scene above the animators trick you into an awwwww before the macabre punchline (Baby Eggs is only mushy with the machinery inside the fluffy animal) 

03 MADAME FROU-FROU
Best left discovered in the movie but she's a vulgar delight with a big musical number that doubles as Cheesebridge's Boxtroll history.

02 GREAT VOICEWORK
Animated films regularly cast celebrity actors by name rather than voice -- there are too many sorry examples to list -- but the voicework here is uniformly excellent with Ben Kingsley best in show with one of his most committed performances in years as the villain Snatcher. Elle Fanning and Isaac Hempstead-Wright as Winnie & Eggs are also quite good, zeroing in on the melancholy and the funny. Sadly, even in the animated genre Toni Collette is underused (she plays Winnie's mother but true to recent form only has a couple of lines - time for a new agent, surely, with these nothing roles for just years now)

01 LAIKA
Tim, our animation guy, already sang this studio's praises right here.  If only we could have a Laika movie every year but these things take years to make. Let's all pray they're already deep into the next one.

If you have seen The Boxtrolls, what are your favorite things about it? Or if you didn't like it (I understand that's a thing?) why not?

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Reader Comments (7)

Haven't seen it yet, much to my dismay. Thanks for the nudge, need to try to find time this week.

October 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

LOVE the movie, agreed on all points.

When my roommate and I went to see it, she told me this story about a family in the ladies' room after the movie. The younger sister asked the older one, "That was dumb, why did you pick it?" The older sister replied, with confidence, "Well, I liked it." And in the midst of this, the mother says.... "No, it *was* dumb. It was so pointless." Roomie claims she then literally waved the kids aside to do her hair and makeup. Did some things hit too close to home?

PS. WHOA HI LAIKA GUY

October 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterWalter L. Hollmann

I just came back from this, and totally loved it. I thought it was successful at providing us with the rules and ruling interests of this universe with barely any exposition (except for the song, as you point out.) We just observe behaviour, and understand what's up.
And I loved Mr Trout and Mr Pickles.
I'm gonna do my part and share it with as many families-with-children as I can.

October 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

I loved the animation but thought the story a bit thin, and the resolution could be seen from a mile off (how does no one realise that Snatcher is evil? (as well as that other thing about him!)). But otherwise such a beautiful film, and the boxtrolls were absolutely cute in an ugly sort of way (especially Oil Can!). Hopefully next time Laika have a screenplay with the same strength as their animation work!

October 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBenji

Eh, the fact that most of Laika's characters are weird, imperfect or downright ugly is one of the main reasons why I really like their work.

October 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMarcie

VERY good movie with amazing character design, sets, special effects, and a surprisingly tart/bitter script about adult stupidity, hypocrisy, avarice, etc. (It's very Roald Dahl at his most acidic.) Tragically, this movie is probably going to get shoved aside due to the visual splendiforousness of "The Book of Life," which while not as sophisticated or sharp-edged as "The Boxtrolls" is an absolute orgy for the eyes. (Both are probably going to lose Best Animated Feature to "How To Train Your Dragon 2"--which is a great flick, so no big tragedy.) It would be nice if more parents took their kids to other animated films besides computer-animated ones, but a lot of moviegoers (and parents) too often go for the simple and easy choices, which is how the excrable "Mr. Peabody and Sherman"--easily the most anti-female movie I've seen this year--makes a fistful of cash.

October 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDback

I liked it very much. I agree with you about the best things about the movie, specially the definition of fatherhood and the adult themes. The animation is very rich in detail, it is a lot of devoted work.

The one thing I didn´t like was (SPOILERS) the storyline about the crazy father who alternates some smart advices with illogical speeches.

November 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJuan Carlos

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