Previously the sole domain of children, animated films were once seen as something for mums and dads to endure rather than enjoy. And while the likes of Postman Pat: The Movie and Rio 2 still test the patience of parents, the recent successes of Frozen, The Lego Movie and How to Train Your Dragon 2 have raised expectations of the medium. Suddenly, animation is for grown-ups, too.
It is this new-found interest that has allowed studios like Laika to thrive. While Pixar, Disney and Dreamworks take all the plaudits; Laika has quietly made a name for itself as the purveyor of spookily fantastical stop-motion films like Coraline and ParaNorman. Their latest offering, The Boxtrolls, is more of the same: evoking the creepy whimsy of Tim Burton and the mad-cap adventure of Aardman productions to tell the tale of Eggs, an orphaned boy raised by kleptomaniac trolls who live underground.
Let’s start with its flaws – because for the most part this is a wonderfully imaginative film. The Boxtrolls main drawback is a questionable structure that initially places too much emphasis on establishing the titular trolls as sympathetic characters.
Rather than opening with the Boxtrolls fleeing the grubby clutches of evil exterminator Archibald Snatcher and his bumbling stooges, screenwriters Irena Brignull and Adam Pava could have introduced us to the world through the eyes of Eggs by following him from the moment he is abandoned into care in order to get that important human angle of a child looking for a place to belong.
Instead, we first meet Eggs after he has been raised by the Boxtrolls and as a result the movie lacks the emotional throughline that makes the likes of Frozen so fulfilling to watch.
It also doesn’t help that the film tries to cover too many thematic threads for its 98-minute length. The Boxtrolls tackles everything from the nature of evil to the class system and much more in-between, and while these are all potentially fruitful options, the film simply doesn’t have enough time to do any of them justice.
However, the rest, as I said, is absolutely wonderful. Directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi have cobbled together a gorgeously immersive world from Alan Snow’s novel Here Be Monsters!.
The fictional city of Cheesetown is teeming with dairy-based delicacies, with a giant wheel of brie carted out during lavish soirées that mask a dastardly class war between the privileged White Hats and greedy social-climbers like Ben Kingsley’s cross-dressing villain.
Meanwhile, the Boxtrolls’ underground home is a hoarder’s paradise, crammed with all the miscellaneous bric-a-brac that has been pilfered from the upper-world’s trash.
The Boxtrolls themselves are also perfectly realized, coming across as cutesy Gremlins who win the audience over with their puppy-dog expressions while wreaking clumsy havoc on the surface, which leads to a funny set piece at a decommissioned foundry.
The voice actors are impressive, too, bursting with energy and gusto that brings their plasticine models to life. Isaac Hempstead-Wright is great as Eggs, a grubby orphan trying to understand where he came from, and Elle Fanning always delights as pompous smarty-pants Winnie, who has a love of gruesome tales. Richard Ayoade, too, is good as a henchman who gradually realizes he’s one of the bad guys, while Ben Kingsley’s voice is near unrecognizable with the sneering drawl he gives Archibald Snatcher.
The mistakes made during the setup obviously make the climax fall flat, with Snatcher unveiling a steam-punk contraption that bares an unflattering resemblance to the giant spider in Wild, Wild West. But the joy is in the journey not the destination, and in that respect The Boxtrolls is an enjoyable mad blend of silly gags and uninhibited adventure that is fun for all the family.
Running time: 98 mins; Genre: Animation; Released: September 12 2014
Directors: Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi; Screenwriters: Irena Brignull, Adam Pava;
Starring: Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris
Click here to watch the trailer for The Boxtrolls