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New Review: The Boxtrolls (2014)

Updated on October 1, 2014

Directors: Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable
Voices: Isaac William Hempstead, Elle Fanning, Sir Ben Kingsley, Jared Hess, Toni Collette, Tracy Morgan, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Dee Bradley Baker

The Boxtrolls is a disturbing and charmless movie, well animated to be sure, but filled with characters who are more obnoxious and grotesque than endearing. The movie is based on a book called Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow, and it tells the story of cute little sewer-dwelling creatures who dress up in boxes (and are named after whatever image is emblazoned on their boxes) and are targeted by a man named Archibald Snatcher (an unrecognizable Sir Ben Kingsley), who dresses up as a woman named Madame Frou Frou during the day, and works as an exterminator of Boxtrolls at night.

Snatcher's reasons for exterminating the Boxtrolls has to do with him wanting to join the ranks of the rich and titled in the small town of Cheesebridge. Known as the White Hats (because of the long white hats they wear), the group Snatcher wants to join are supposed to serve as Cheesebridge's city council, but spend most of their time holding parties where they sniff and eat fine samples of cheese. Snatcher seems to have some sort of reaction every time he eats cheese. His whole body swells up like a balloon, and one of his henchmen has to throw a cup full of leeches at his face to ease the swelling.

The movie opens up with one Boxtroll disappearing into the night with a baby in his hands. Snatcher reports the incident to White Hat leader Lord Pintley-Rind (Jared Hess), who thinks nothing of the kidnapping incident until Snatcher tells him the Boxtrolls also pose a threat to the town's cheese supply. Snatcher says he'll destroy all of the Boxtrolls, on the condition (of course) that he be accepted as a White Hat.

Snatcher gets the people of Cheesebridge to be afraid of the Boxtrolls by telling them that the baby they kidnapped was taken back to their lair and eaten alive. In truth, the Boxtrolls are really a friendly bunch who are terrified of people. They come out of the sewers every night and roam the streets, looking for trash they can use for making their inventions. The baby they allegedly ate has actually been adopted by them and raised to be just like them. He's named Eggs (Isaac William Hempstead).

They're cute, AND they're great babysitters!
They're cute, AND they're great babysitters!

After Snatcher kidnaps so many Boxtrolls, Eggs takes it upon himself to venture out into the city to save his kidnapped friends. He meets up and befriends a little girl named Winnifred (Elle Fanning), who is later taken to the lair of the Boxtrolls, and is disappointed to find that it doesn't have mountains of baby bones and rivers of blood. Winnifred just so happens to be the daughter of Pintley-Rind, and when she finds out that Eggs is the baby who was said to have been murdered by the feared creatures, she and Eggs try to tell her father and hopefully get him to call off the extermination of the Boxtrolls. Unfortunately, Pintley-Rind is an aggressively annoying man who's more concerned with his white hat and cheese than he is to listening to anything his daughter has to say to him (no matter how important it is).

Eventually, the movie gets around to explaining why one of the Boxtrolls kidnapped Eggs when he was a baby. As it turns out, Eggs' father (Simon Pegg) was an inventor who was attacked by Snatcher one evening when he refused to make a particular machine for him. Eggs believes Snatcher murdered his father, until he shows up later, hanging upside down in Snatcher's lair with a face full of hair, and is apparently completely off his rocker now (his laughs maniacally and says "Jelly" quite often).

While much of the movie is just plain weird, what ultimately hurts The Boxtrolls is that there's no warmth or heart to any of it. It's kind of a creepy and off-putting experience, and with the exception of one scene where Eggs attends a high-class party and tries acting civilized by "shaking hands" with people, it's really not that funny, either. The movie struggles desperately for laughs, but it rarely ever gets them. There's one suggestive joke in particular, involving the relationship between Pintley-Rind and Snatcher's Madame Frou Frou, that's bound to elicits groans than fits of laughter.

"Can you smell any onions on my breath?"
"Can you smell any onions on my breath?"

The animation used to create the Boxtrolls' underground lair and the town of Cheesebridge are splendidly done; this is a movie from the Laika studio, who've made visually stunning gems like Coraline and ParaNorman. Sure, the animation is good, but they're almost rendered moot by directors Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable's decision to film everything in a drab and muddy color palate. The characters are thinly-written, and some are animated in a highly unpleasant way. This is especially true of Snatcher, who, with his pale skin, pointed nose, and strands of hair that hangs in front of his face like long snakes, looks positively sickening.

In all honesty, I loved both Coraline and ParaNorman, and I was really looking forward to this movie. Unfortunately, The Boxtrolls just isn't that much fun to watch. Not even the title characters themselves are that endearing. Sure, they each have cute personalities, but do they touch your heart and stay with you like other animated characters like Shrek or Dory or even Norman Babcock? Not at all, and unfortunately, the same can be said of the film itself.

Final Grade: ** (out of ****)

What did you think of this movie? :)

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    • priley84 profile image

      priley84 3 years ago from Warner Robins, Ga

      The trailers were very promising, which makes the movie all the more disappointing. :/

    • profile image

      Jen 3 years ago

      That's too bad. Based on the trailers, it really is a nice looking movie.