The Boxtrolls really seizes the opportunity to create a universe unlike any we’ve either seen. It’s a bit more macabre than we’re used to in a children’s movie, dark and gritty, but immersive and satisfying in its stop-motion animation.
In the town of Cheesebridge, an evil exterminator vows to kill off every boxtroll, spreading lies and ugly myths about them to win public approval (“Hide your delicious babies!”). The boxtrolls live underground, basically in hiding, clothed (or disguised?) in cardboard boxes, where they use pilfered materials to build all sorts of magical things. They only come out at night to snatch unused, unwanted things, but to do so is to put themselves in peril of being caught. Their number dwindles steadily until a young boxtroll named Eggs discovers you can go out into the light, and he must try to rally the timid boxtrolls into standing up for themselves.
The boxtrolls don’t speak, but that doesn’t stop them from each having a unique character (not unlike the Minions, come to think of it), or from communicating what they feel. The humans in the story are a sorry lot – sure Mr. Snatcher, the dastardly exterminator, is evil, but the others aren’t much better. The troll “monsters” are eminently easier to root for in their sweetness and earnestness. There is also real sorrow here, and stabs at profundity. One human wonders if the boxtrolls “understand the duality of good and evil” while murking up the concept himself.
We have come to expect big things from the animators at Laika (think Coraline) and this film looks just as cool, and even more textured. And I love seeing an animated film where the little girl is not sexed up, and isn’t even crazy skinny. She has little girl proportions! Disney, you’re totally busted: turns out it IS possible to make a girl who looks like a girl. And if you stick around after the credits, you’re in for a treat: there’s a bit of existential animation that’s enlightening and entertaining.
A little slow to start, it’s still a solid movie that will capture children, especially those inclined to gross-out jokes (so, pretty much all). But this was a competitive year in terms of animation, which is great. Everyone’s bringing their A game. It’s just that movies like Big Hero 6 and The Lego Movie earned an A+.