Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The Boxtrolls

Name some recent animated kids’ films. Just off the top of your head. Chances are you’re going to pick stuff like Frozen, Big Hero 6, How to Train Your Dragon, and The LEGO Movie – all great films, but all disappointingly computer-animated. If, like me, you’ve found yourself hankering for the golden age of 2D animation and stop motion – the days when animators painted real paintings on real sheets of celluloid, and crafted real characters out of real, fingerprint-pocked Plasticine instead of just dicking about on a graphics tablet – there’s a good chance The Boxtrolls, Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi’s 2014 claymation comedy, is going to be right up your street.

Out now on Blu-ray and DVD, The Boxtrolls tells the story of the cheese-obsessed, Victorian town of Cheesebridge (“A Gouda Place to Live”). By day, it’s a bustling, happy, pretty little town, like something off one of those variety biscuit tins your neighbours always give you at Christmas. But when night falls, the terrified Cheesebridge citizens rush back to their homes, shut their windows and bolt their doors, and try not to think about the horrors being wrought upon their beloved town. That’s because, when night falls, a race of vicious, bloodthirsty monsters – known as Boxtrolls venture out of their underground lair to kidnap and murder young children, stopping only to mindlessly steal the Cheesebridgians’ shop signs and door knockers along the way.

…Nah, I’m just kidding: Boxtrolls are freakin’ adorable. Like, maybe even more loveable than Despicable Me’s Minions. They waddle around wearing discarded cardboard boxes and babbling in a nonsense language, for Christ’s sake! It’s just that Boxtrolls really love building things, so they venture above ground every night to scavenge for supplies. It’s easy to see how the townsfolk could misconstrue the Boxtrolls’ passion as petty vandalism, if they have to keep buying new doorknobs and stuff. One of the Boxtrolls – Fish – has adopted an abandoned human baby, whom he calls Eggs (Boxtrolls are named after whatever’s printed on their boxes). Eggs grows up amongst the Boxtrolls, completely unaware of his roots, and enjoys a happy, peaceful childhood, making Stomp-style music with his litter-loving family.

Unfortunately for Eggs and the other Boxtrolls, Mayor Portley-Rind has struck a deal with the town’s pest exterminator, Archibald Snatcher (basically an claymation replica of the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), who’s vowed to wipe out every last Boxtroll in Cheesebridge in exchange for a place on the Mayor’s exclusive cheese-tasting committee. When Snatcher gets his hands on Fish, it’s up to Eggs to rescue him – and stop Snatcher wiping out the entire Boxtroll population.
In terms of story, The Boxtrolls doesn’t exactly break new ground – it’s pretty much your standard back-and-forth between the good guys and the baddies – but the writing is certainly a lot sharper than you’ll find in most kids’ films and, yes, there are plenty of adult-oriented gags to amuse grown-up kids and childish adults alike. I knew, when the film pulled off a particularly deft/daft cheese pun around the half-hour mark, that it had earned a permanent place in my collection. Having people like Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, and Toni Collette in the cast doesn’t exactly hurt, either.

And, as I’ve already hinted, the animation is quite simply gorgeous. I can’t remember seeing stop motion looking this flawless before, even in the hands of Nick Park (Wallace and Gromit). I actually assumed it was computer animation masquerading as stop-motion animation, at first – but the filmmakers put paid to that notion with a pleasingly fourth wall-breaking skit during the credits, in which the characters speculate they’re being controlled by “giants”, and the camera pulls back to reveal a crew member painstakingly animating their every movement.

It all adds up to a film that, groundbreaking though it isn’t, oozes quality and personality from its every pore. I defy anyone, no matter how gnarled and cynical, not to be charmed by The Boxtrolls.

I’m giving The Boxtrolls a well-deserved 4/5.


Mike Lee

The Boxtrolls at CeX

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