The latest from stop-motion animation company Laika (after ‘Coraline’ in 09, and ‘ParaNorman’ in 12), and based on the 2005 young adult novel ‘Here be Monsters!’ by Alan Snow, this is a particularly skilled production, especially so from directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi along with tremendous voiceover performances from Ben Kingsley and Elle Fanning. The Boxtrolls are trolls that dwell in the underdark of the city of Cheesebridge, creeping out in the night to snatch children away from their families, dragging them back to their rat infested lairs to feast on the blood and bone of the city’s innocents. At least, that is what Dickensian bad guy Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley) would have you believe. In reality they are a peaceful and frightened group of creatures, ones who wear boxes instead of clothes and who do have a human child in their midst, Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), who, along with posh girl Winnie (Fanning), generates the central story as the two of them attempt to thwart the dastardly plans of Snatcher as he uses Boxtroll scaremongering to try and wrest political power from the town elite, including Winnie’s father Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris).
The trolls are a little garish and could potentially frighten small children, at least in the beginning – their austere introduction is ameliorated as the film progresses and they are all really secondary characters, certainly for older children this is fine and is not in the same ballpark as the genuinely too scary for youngsters ‘Coraline’. It is interesting how much animation aimed at a younger audience has a garish/creepy edge to it outwith the realm of Disney and Dreamworks, perhaps that’s why, to distance themselves from the larger fish in the pond, but perhaps the reason runs a little deeper – after all, anyone who grew up watching ‘Watership Down’ (78) or the animated ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (78) isn’t going to forget cute little bunny rabbits getting torn to pieces or real orcs (there were breaks in the animation with live actors) splattering blood all over the screen in a hurry.
The story is fun and interesting with standing up and thinking for yourself the central theme, and although it’s good enough for adults to enjoy too, they will notice a lull in momentum going into the final third. One of its strengths is the nuances that have been put into the bad guys which makes them much more interesting as characters, and, along with Snatcher, they are well brought to life by Richard Ayoade,Tracy Morgan and Nick Frost (Simon Pegg also has a brief role). It’s clear to see the amount of work that has gone into the film, and if you sit through the credits there is a wonderful scene at the end showing one of the animators at work with a voiceover from Ayoade, poking fun at the amount of work involved, saying ‘it’s more like a hobby really. You should get a real job’, something no doubt familiar to artists everywhere ….