Saturday, October 4, 2014

'The Boxtrolls' review

I was wary of The Boxtrolls simply because of the company who produced it. Animation studio Laika has only made two films before this: Coraline and ParaNorman. I really disliked Coraline and never even bothered to see ParaNorman. However, as early reviews trickled in for The Boxtrolls, I started to become more and more interested. While critics weren't as high on the film as they were on Laika's previous films, the comparisons to Monty Python and the supposed kookiness of the film were quite enticing possibilities to me, even though I wasn't actually that excited for the movie. And in the end, it was pretty good. It's a unique film and the characters are lovable and entertaining. The villains are a lot of fun and the Boxtrolls are truly awesome creations.  This is a fun film and one that kids and adults alike will enjoy. It's not a perfect movie and if the trailers and reviews didn't excite you, odds are that you won't like this film. But if you're even slightly interested in this, The Boxtrolls won't disappoint.

The Boxtrolls centers on a British town named Cheesebridge, where mysterious creatures called Boxtrolls live underneath the surface. One night, a group of Boxtrolls supposedly kidnap a young boy and Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) immediately starts a massive witch hunt for all of the Boxtrolls after consulting with Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris). The young boy that the Boxtrolls took grows up and is given the name Eggs (Isaac Hemstead Wright voices the older version of the character). Eventually, Eggs runs out at night with the other creatures and meets Winnie (Elle Fanning), who is immediately curious about the boy who acts so different. After a narrow escape, Eggs realizes that there's a sinister plot to destroy the Boxtrolls and that Snatcher will do anything to get a prestigious white hat. An epic adventure filled with action and cheese ensues.

The Boxtrolls is not a tightly scripted movie, but it's an incredibly entertaining one most of the time. The animation is gorgeously odd and I really enjoyed all of the characters in the film. The voice work is extraordinary and even though the cast is filled with celebrity actors, I was never able to tell who was voicing who. It's not a perfect film. The script is meandering and not all that good and the film is about fifteen minutes too long, but in the end, this is a highly odd and enjoyable adventure that I believe everyone can find something to like in.

The writers of The Boxtrolls (Irena Brignull and Adam Pava) do a really terrific job of creating characters that are vivid and intriguing. They succeed in making their creations either lovable or despicable, sympathetic or dastardly. While the film is slightly messy on a story level, the characters are what carry this movie the whole way. And even though I thought that the character of Winnie was an extraneous addition to the story that was unnecessary, I still found her to be a well-written character. The villains are also exceptionally entertaining. Archibald Snatcher's goal is clear and his henchmen are consistently hilarious.

Part of the credit can go to the screenwriters but the voice actors definitely bring the characters memorably to life. Young actor Isaac Hemstead Wright is pretty solid as Eggs and Elle Fanning does an impeccable British accent as Winnie, but the real standouts are the colorful supporting characters who are often voiced by notable British actors. Ben Kingsley is terrific as Archibald Snatcher and Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade and Tracy Morgan do brilliant work as his henchmen.

The Boxtrolls also succeeds in creating a deliciously beautiful world that is awesome to behold. I was sucked into the world of The Boxtrolls almost immediately, and although the story was lacking at times, I found the characters and the world to be appealing enough to carry me through this movie. I know some critics believe that's the fundamental problem with Laika, and I've happened to agreewith them in the past. However, this is definitely not an example of that. This is an emotional and well-written film on a character level that just can't bring it's story together completely. It's a good film overall, even though the film hits at brick wall at various times.

As I've said, the story in The Boxtrolls is not the strongest and some characters are merely passable (Winnie and her father especially). Those two things are the root cause of all my problems with this movie. The story meanders along and never manages to really feel fully cohesive. It just moves at a natural pace and it felt unfocused quite often. It felt like the filmmakers seemed so enamored with the characters that they forgot to tell a properly intriguing story.

Nevertheless, whenever the Boxtrolls or the villains appear on screen, this film comes dynamically to life and I loved every second. When The Boxtrolls is good, it's stunningly mesmerizing and brilliant. But when it's bad, it's really bad. Thankfully, it's only truly awful in a few spots. Most of the time, The Boxtrolls is quite good. The animators did a great job with the world of Cheesebridge and the writers splendidly bring the characters to life. It's about fifteen minutes too long, but I digress. This is a very entertaining animated movie and it has enough creepy, interesting, unique and funny elements to warrant a viewing.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                                (7/10)

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