In Review: The Boxtrolls

by Daniel Goodwin on 10/09/2014


In the last five years Laika have proved themselves to be the black sheep of dark animation with family horrors Coraline (2009) and Paranorman (2012). Their latest is an equally twisted but cutesy, Victorian fable based on the novel Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow. The story follows a young boy called Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) who lives amongst a gathering of sewer trolls in the fictional town of Cheesebridge.

Considered a menace by residents, the Boxtrolls emerge at night and scavenge through rubble for trinkets to help construct their underground kingdom. In answer to this menace, Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), Cheese Connoisseur and leader of the White Hats, enlists the help of grubby exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) to take out the beasties in return for an honorary place at their table. Meanwhile Portley-Rind’s daughter Winnie (Elle Fanning) befriends Eggs and helps the Boxtrolls in their fight against Snatcher and the White Hats.

Despite kooky characters animated in the scratchy style of Quentin Blake, along with occasional funny moments, skewiff plotting hinders The Boxtrolls, along with lazy creature design and a hollow heart. The generic beasties lack charm and individual personalities, while the story and protagonists are void of depth, conviction and a protagonist who cares. As a result The Boxtrolls is not quite engaging enough for grown ups and even though its absurdist traits are among the plus points, they may alienate younger viewers.

The fizzy claymation, CG hybrid is wonderfully disjointed and fitting to the dark, gothic design and while some of the supporting characters are a tad shy of pantomime, they are played with elation. Nick Frost and Richard Ayoade shine as moping henchmen along with a disgustingly smarmy Ben Kingsley as Snatcher and Toni Collette as Winnie’s mother.

The set pieces are shoehorned and not very unique despite their context but there are some wonderful, random comedy moments. One of the key characters’ cheese allergy turns them into a Dr Jekyll style ogre and Eggs’ attempt to mingle with dinner guests at an upper class ball is hilarious. Overall, The Boxtrolls is a fleeting novelty with swathes of background innovation but extra effort should have gone into concocting creatures of greater design with a stronger narrative and complex protagonists.

Daniel has awarded The Boxtrolls two Torches of Truth


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