Saturday, 11 October 2014

The BoxTrolls Review - An Uneven But Utterly Charming Film

The BoxTrolls is Laika's third stop-motion wonder; it's a bizarre and enchanting film that looks just wonderful. The animation is absolutely stunning and the world that the crew have created is rich with detail and hard work. The story doesn't quite hit the same highs that Coraline and ParaNorman did, but it nonetheless offers plenty of charm, making it an enjoyable ride.

*Some spoilers below*

The BoxTrolls opens in a decadent Victorian town, whose leader, Lord Portley-Rind, is more concerned with eating cheese than running the town. The town lives in constant fear of the BoxTrolls who live underneath the city and only come out at night. They think the BoxTrolls were responsible for the kidnap and murder of a child called "the Trubshaw Baby." There's an extermination unit, headed by Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) whose only goal is to exterminate all the BoxTrolls, with the aim of joining Lord Portley-Rind and his council of "White Hats" and eat cheese all day. However, the child was not murdered, rather, he now lives underneath the city with the BoxTrolls. He also now goes by 'Eggs,' - named for the box he wears (all BoxTrolls are named after the box they wear, so we have a film populated with characters called things like Fish and Shoe...). The BoxTrolls live in constant danger, because Snatcher is one by one catching them, and their only defence mechanism is to hide in their boxes. One night, Eggs encounters Winnie, a smart girl, obsessed with the BoxTrolls, who also happens to be the daughter of Lord Portley-Rind. Together, they discover a plot to destroy the BoxTrolls and must try and stop it. On the way, Eggs discovers many things from his past and how he came to live with the BoxTrolls.

The BoxTrolls offers plenty of enjoyment, with many elaborate action sequences; the humour is very "British," staying in tune with the setting. The characters vary from charming to despicable - there are plenty of unlikable characters in here, but they add to the whole premise of the film: you should take kids seriously. There are also many heartfelt moments, especially those between Eggs and the rest of the BoxTrolls (especially with Fish; the relationship between he and Eggs is the heart of the movie). The film is also lighter than its predecessors and there's much more humour and comedy than in the previous two films. The humour is uneven, though, as the jokes don't always land... But overall, there's plenty of enjoyment here.

Now, the main problem with the film is that it doesn't balance the humour and the dark moments all too well. Coraline and ParaNorman were pretty dark films (they did have some humour, but overall they were serious) and they stuck with that tone for the entire runtime. The BoxTrolls attempts to do both, but the change in tone does not blend well and there are humorous moments that are cut short because of some dark revelations; likewise, there are dramatic moments that get undermined by cheap gags.

I also had a problem with the character of Snatcher. He is the antagonist, yes, but while he does many menacing and despicable things, he also has a few too many ridiculous moments that feel out of character. It seems that the directors weren't sure how to handle him. They wanted to make him menacing and funny, and they didn't entirely succeeded with that.

Another problem is that the film also takes the gravitas away from many dramatic and dark moments by fixing them mere minutes later. There's a very dark scene about Eggs's past that gives the film a wonderfully twisted arc, but the whole thing gets solved near the end, making the whole scene feel unnecessary. A character is also tossed into the film, and the relationship he develops with Eggs feels undeveloped and probably could have stayed in the editing room. It looks like the filmmakers wanted to add many elements to the story, instead of keeping it simple, and the results are not ideal. Sometimes less is more, and this film suffers from excess of story. The climax also overstays its welcome and it seems the directors didn't quite know how to wrap up the film, extending it unnecessarily.

On a more positive note, the film has very distinct personalities, with Eggs, Winnie, and Snatcher's henchmen being standouts. There are many smart scenes and much smart dialogue - one twist involving Snatcher, in particular, is very clever and funny. Dario Marianelli's score also adds to the story, with great compositions that help the film's atmosphere to be more believable and fantastical at the same time. The cast is also wonderful, with Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning and Ben Kingsley giving standout performances. Kingsley is especially good in the role of the vile Snatcher (even if the character himself is a little uneven) and he lends some extra oomph to the whole thing.

I've been reading many criticisms levelled at the film because of its looks, and many reviewers have called the film "ugly." I find this utterly preposterous. Yes, the film is set in a bizarre world with bizarre characters, but the whole town and its inhabitants are absolutely marvellous creations. Laika is known for its hard work in creating animation and the results in The BoxTrolls are just superb. You'll be amazed by the level of detail the animators have put into the film to make it beautiful. To call the film "ugly" is insulting to the animators' hard work. The film is just beautiful. Creepy, but beautiful.

The Boxtrolls is the weakest of Laika's films, but that by no means makes it bad. The film has stunning animation, endearing characters, heart, humour and several great sequences. Unfortunately, some tonal and pacing issues hinder the story, and some important scenes are undermined by the attempt of the filmmakers to fix everything to achieve a happy ending. However, the film offers plenty of thrills to get you past these moments and everyone will have a good time with it. The BoxTrolls comes recommended.


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