CAST: Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, Simon Pegg, Dee Bradley Baker, Steve Blum
RUNNING TIME: 96 mins
BASICALLY…: A town is plagued by a group of monsters known as the Boxtrolls, but they may not be as fearful as everyone makes them out to be…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Laika Animation came into the public eye so strongly with their first stop-motion family-horror Coraline, and continued their brilliant method of storytelling and memorable characters with ParaNorman. With these two incredible movies under their belt, there was every chance they could go three for three with their latest entry The Boxtrolls, based on the book Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow. The signs were all there: a top-notch voice cast, superb animation and maybe some good moral lessons for the youngsters thrown in for good measure as well. This really looked as though it could be the one to officially certify Laika as the next Pixar.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. If Laika is indeed the next Pixar, then The Boxtrolls is undoubtedly their Cars (we’d also say it’s their Cars 2, but we’re not that cruel).
A sheer disappointment from a studio with such promise, this film lacks the creativity that its previous two films brought to the table and – perhaps most crucially – any of the charm. It likes to meddle in being overly dark and unpleasant, sometimes to a point where it could actually traumatise young kids instead of entertaining them. For instance, we learn through flashback what happened to a character’s father and how they apparently met a gruesome end at the hand of the film’s antagonist, pest exterminator Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley in full OTT mode). When we find out the truth about their fate later in the film, it’s much more of a disturbing outcome than what we had been told before. Laika has proven with its first two films that it can definitely go to dark places and still be light-hearted enough to please their younger viewers, but here it’s just uncomfortable in how dark it goes without any of the enjoyment.
The story is lacking as well, and doesn’t have the distinction of having as many dramatic layers as, say, ParaNorman does. It’s just a simple “don’t judge a book by its cover” story when one really starts to analyse it, and it’s not even done in a wholly original way either – it basically recycles the themes that its past two films already used and did much more effectively.
The characters, too, range from either bland and uninteresting, or way too nasty even for a dark family film. The main hero is a young boy named Eggs (voiced by Game of Thrones’ Isaac Hempstead-Wright) who was raised from infancy by the Boxtrolls… and that’s all we really know about him. We know nothing about his personality – if any at all – and there’s nothing given to us indicating that he’s worth caring about at all, even when he’s in mortal danger. Emerging with slightly more personality is Elle Fanning’s Winifred, who does get a chuckle every now and then with her eyebrow-raising fascination with sadism – but despite Fanning’s decent voice-acting, her deepened voice doesn’t seem to match the character design of the young eight/nine-year-old girl. It just sounds like a grown woman playing a part than it does an actual child character, it’s very distracting. Richard Ayoade and Nick Frost get the film’s bigger laughs as a couple of evil henchmen convinced they’re on the good side of the equation, although a nice fourth wall-breaking credits gag involving them goes on for a bit too long and becomes awkward to listen to after a while. However, it’s Jared Harris as the father of Fanning’s character that gets the lowest marks on the character list – nothing wrong with Harris’ vocal performance, but his despicably unlikable character is written to be so narcissistic and so uncaring and so hateful that you actually want to punch him whenever he’s on-screen. During the climax, when his own daughter is threatened by Snatcher he’s finding excuses to not give him what he wants even if it means losing his daughter. The character had been set up to be a neglectful monster beforehand, but that was just overkill – in fact, HE should have been the villain instead of Snatcher. That would have made more sense, especially seeing how awful he can be to his own flesh and blood.
By the way, Hollywood, we want to know: what has Toni Collette done to upset you? That’s the only reason I can think of to explain why her talent keeps being wasted in movies this year. First A Long Way Down, then Tammy, now this? She doesn’t even have five lines in this picture, and you don’t even know that she was in it until the credits start rolling. Seriously, why do you keep wasting this obviously talented woman in your movies? It simply isn’t fair.
The Boxtrolls isn’t completely without merit, as it does boast some impressive stop-motion animation and there aren’t any bad lessons for kids to be found despite there not appearing to be any, but sadly it’s an unimaginative, boring and overall underwhelming effort by Laika Animation which really needs to step up its game for its fourth film, whatever it may turn out to be. Let’s just hope that it’ll be a huge improvement on where it stands now.
SO, TO SUM UP…
The Boxtrolls is a major disappointment from the otherwise talented Laika Animation, lacking the creativity and charm that its previous films Coraline and ParaNorman had and instead focusing itself on a forgettable story and unpleasant characters to no doubt trick audiences into thinking it’s going over the edge, whereas in reality it’s just as boxed up as its titular creatures.