Directed by Graham Annabel, Anthony Stacchi. Written by Irena Brignull, Adam Pava, Alan Snow. Starring Ben Kingsley (Archibald Snatcher), Jared Harris (Lord Portly-Rind), Nick Frost (Mr. Trout), Isaac Hemstead (Eggs), Elle Fanning (Winnie).
Bottom line: The Boxtrolls is a complete disappointment, as a family movie, as a clay-mated movie, and even just as a plain old movie.
In the city of Cheesebridge, there exist two groups: humans and Boxtrolls. The humans are governed by group of four old white men called White Hates (because they, ya know, have white hats). Meanwhile, underneath the city, lives a group of creatures called Boxtrolls. Each night the Boxtrolls leave their subterranean dwelling to scavenge for junk which they re-appropriate into fantastic inventions. “See they aren’t stealing, they’re taking the discarded junk to make anew.” That’s what the movie wants you to say, anyway.
The Boxtrolls opens with the creepy, ugly, Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley) proposing a deal to the chief White Hat, Lord Portly-Rind (Harris); if/when Snatcher kills every last Boxtroll, he will receive a White Hat. Reluctantly, Portly-Rind agrees.
Snatcher goes on the hunt with three henchmen, capturing every Boxtroll they find. It isn't too difficult to catch a Boxtroll; when startled or afraid the little creatures hide in the boxes they wear for clothes (hence the name Boxtrolls). There is a baby who lives with the Boxtrolls too. His name is Eggs (Hemstead) because the box he wears held eggs. Cue montage of him growing into a teenager. Yadda yadda yadda Eggs must save his family.
This movie provides several layers of disappointment with a varied amount of spoilers. I'll leave the spoiler ones until the end, of course. My first mistake was hoping and expecting the Claymation to be worthwhile: it wasn't. The thing that makes Claymation unique is that it's so physical but, for the life of me, I couldn't really tell how much was CGI and how much of it was Claymation. Is that a testament to how well done it was? No, it's just that the CGI detracts from the Claymation experience. They might as well have made 3D models look like clay and no one would be the wiser.
My second mistake was seeing this in 3D, which has two side effects: it's darker and the animation becomes choppy if it moves too quickly. This choppiness cripples Claymation. The best parts are the colorful characters and smooth animation! Correction, the only thing this movie has going for it is the color and animation.
Leading up to its premier, the avalanche of marketing reminded me The Boxtrolls is "from the makers of Coraline & ParaNorman." Coraline was really good and ParaNorman was lame so they had one out two. What I failed to realize is that "makers of" was not "directors of." So these guys worked in the Art Department of those films or were assistant directors. If you read my review John Wick, you'd know that the first time directing a feature length film, doesn't have to be bad. If you haven't read that review, do, but in the mean time, let me paraphrase. If Annabel and Stacchi had Claymation experience, they could've just put nearly all of their eggs into that basket. What I was hoping to see was really good Claymation. I didn't care about some convoluted, problematic (for reasons I'll discuss later) story. Consider this:
Even if you love Claymation, heck, even if you mildly enjoy Claymation don't see The Boxtrolls. It isn't like a fun type of bad it's just a waste of time type of bad. This isn't something from which you learn or grow it’s a waste of time and money.
Instead of watching this, check out Grendel, Grendel, Grendel (1981). It’s an animated movie directed by Alexander Stitt. In the same way that the play Wicked takes the Wizard of Oz from the Wicked Witch's perspective, Grendel, Grendel, Grendel is the retelling of the epic poem Beowulf from the perspective of the monster Grendel. It’s such simple late 70's, early 80's style of animation. It reminded me of The Beatles Yellow Submarine. It is a fascinating movie that warrants its own post, but, in the mean time, skip The Boxtrolls and see Grendel, Grendel, Grendel. It’s even on YouTube. I’ll include a link at the bottom of the page.
I didn't get too too much into the story or thematic problems with the movie yet, so in the coming paragraphs mind yourself of spoilers. But wait, if you won't see the movie if you know what happens...
As is sometimes the case with "family movies," bad = ugly = evil = death. Recall my summary of introduction, when Snatcher makes a deal with Lord Portly-Rind. Snatcher wants to be part of the Aristocracy. It isn't like Snatcher was doing anything particularly villainous or at least anything more villainous than Portly-Rind. It's not like he is holding Portly-Rind hostage. Portly-Rind is acting out of fear of public outcry - not for the public’s sake but because he may lose his status. What ultimately happens to Portly-Rind? Nothing. He loses his white hat but at least he doesn't (literally) explode.
Thus Portly-Rind's character is established as one obsessed with cheese and power, and treats his daughter, Winnie (Fanning), as a far third. Even at climatic fight, he acts this way. Snatcher (because of a cheese allergy) has turned into a hulking mutant (another reason he should die). He holds Winnie by the throat saying, "Give me your hat or she gets it!' Portly-Rind hesitates, not once but twice! Winnie yells at him and he reluctantly provides the hat. It was a situation built up to be the standard redemptive situation. To save his daughter, the father gives us what he thought he held most dear. But because he’s so reluctant to give it up, it really feels unsatisfying. Maybe it's a failed attempt at humor, but with ten minutes of movie left, it isn't the time for lame jokes! We've got loose ends to tie up. And, of course, he goes unpunished for this.
Now that we're speaking of fathers, let’s look at Eggs. Eggs’ backstory is that he was the son of an inventor. One day, Snatcher comes to the inventor and says, "Build me something evil." Egg Sr. refuses; Snatcher supposedly kills him but not before Eggs is given to the Boxtrolls for safekeeping. I was kinda pumped because a father was killed.
The doesn't sound right. I mean that it was remarkable that the film would do something that bold. It's much darker than I expected. But, wouldn't ya know it, the father wasn't killed, he was held captive by Snatcher, in solitary confinement, held upside down and fed jelly for a decade. When he is re-introduced, he is a lunatic.
I wasn't sure how the movie would handle that emotional dilemma. The Boxtrolls raised Eggs, after all, but now his biological father is back albeit without sanity. Don't worry about that though! As soon as Snatcher is killed, Eggs Sr. gets a shave and a haircut and is back to normal. The movie ends with Eggs and his father in the front seat of a carriage, with the lead Boxtroll behind them. You see, Eggs Sr. is the biological father and, more importantly, a human so naturally he supersedes the Boxtrolls.
I could go on but nah. The Boxtrolls now exists in my memory alongside a terrible meal. In any case, thank you for reading! I would normally say, “leave a comment and let me know if you agree or disagree with my assessment” but I hope you might have persuaded you not to see it. That said let me know if you've seen any good movies recently. Have you seen the new Hunger Games or Interstellar?
Oh, I almost forgot to provide a link to Grendel, Grendel, Grendel