I believe I am a victim of my own hype. From the animation studio behind Coraline and ParaNorman comes a surprisingly shallow, directionless story about a man who really wants hats.
When the town of Cheesebridge is terrorised by creatures known as the Boxtrolls, who at night steal anything they can find, a self-styled troll exterminator sets about finding and capturing them. But when a boy who had been considered kidnapped by the trolls as a baby returns and allies himself with a young city girl, the trolls might not seem so evil after all.
I really wanted to love Boxtrolls. I find Coraline insanely creepy and underrated, and ParaNorman I had shamefully missed in cinemas (it became fourth in my 2013 list) and from the trailer Boxtrolls looks like a unique, quirky and once again dark children’s animation.
Well it is certainly… dark?
The inherent problem I had with the film was the storytelling. We are immediately shown a nightmarish scene of a troll stealing away a baby, shadowy lighting, glowing eyes, no explanation. Intimidating stuff, and that’s all we get for backstory, foundation and lore of the creatures for the first hour of the film.
Sure we see the child, named Eggs by his troll captors, grow up happily (albeit badly: trolls living in boxes and not speaking a word of English) but we have no idea what the trolls are doing or why they have him. We don’t even know the past or present relationship between humans and trolls to gauge whether we should be afraid for Eggs or not while in their company for the first half of the film.
All of this isn’t helped by the lack of sympathy or empathy I felt for the trolls themselves. They are a cross between Jawas and Minions, they jibber and babble childishly and the film assumes we regard them as loveable misfits.
That and our antagonists insist on calling themselves antagonists, literally, throughout the entire film! As if the story was unsure we’d appreciate the trolls were the victims or not.
Sufficed to say, the first act of this film is very hard to get into.
Enter Ben Kingsley as Archibald Snatcher, putting on his best Timothy Spall impression, as possibly the weirdest villain. The city has an unhealthy obsession with cheese (street names are called Milk and Curd, etc) and Snatcher wants nothing more than to sit and enjoy fine cheeses with the city’s royalty while wearing a white hat… despite being horrifically allergic to cheese…
He is accompanied by three stock henchmen who blunder about and stress how they “are the good guys, right?” and “good triumphs over evil… yeah?” I get the cut of this movie’s jib, but it is played out so bluntly and with little alternate substance that I just found it tiresome.
Boxtrolls is a shallow affair. It has bright sparks but they are infrequent. When Eggs is first introduced to civilized society things naturally escalate with good fun and charm, the characters and animation are excellent and almost carry the film on their own. I love stop motion animation, it is a dying art, and this is an excellent example of it. The atmosphere is good, details are pin sharp and interesting.
But it is ridden with story cliche (I think you have to be three to fall for this story’s “twists”) it isn’t compelling or engaging like ParaNorman nor is it as visually edgy as Coraline. It rests happily in averageness, which for my expectations becomes quite low, I am sad to say.
Additional Marshmallows: Oh god, Steve Blum voiced one of the Boxtrolls! If you know your anime and video games, you should appreciate this. Though okay he doesn’t speak a word of English here…