The Boxtrolls (2014) ☆☆☆ (3/4) : A boy and little boxes below the city

theboxtrolls02 “The Boxtrolls” is a charming stop-motion animation film which fascinates adult audiences with its technical efforts while exciting young audiences through the resulting wonder on the screen. While its story is a familiar fable of good and evil, its offbeat fantasy world shines with humor and imagination as providing many fabulous visual moments, and this is certainly enticing to watch as something different from usual digital animation films.

Its story is unfolded within a city called Cheesebridge, whose exterior appearance seems to be inspired by Pieter Brueghel’s painting “The Tower of Babel”. In this city filled with pale, ugly people who look like Hieronymus Bosch’s interpretation of Dickensian caricatures, there are a bunch of night creatures called Boxtrolls, and these small, gray creatures usually sneak around the alleys and streets of the city while wearing cardboard box which functions both as their attire and camouflage.

While they were merely night annoyance to the citizens of Cheesebridge at first, but one incident occurs to shock the whole city, and a guy named Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley) volunteers to take care of the city’s trouble with Boxtrolls. After persuading the incumbent (and incompetent) mayor Lord Portley-Rind (voiced by Jared Harris) that he is a man for the job, Snatcher gets a promise of class promotion from the mayor (he was promised to be accepted into the elite class of the mayor and his peers, which is represented by their white hat), and he instantly starts his operation to get rid of Boxtrolls once for all.

It is quite obvious to us (but not the mayor and others in the city) that Snatcher is a nasty evil man with big ambition, and we see how far he is willing to go for accomplishing his goal. Whenever the sun goes down below the horizon, everyone in the city locks their doors as ordered while Snatcher and his trio of henchmen (voiced by Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, and Tracy Morgan) look for any Boxtroll to catch and exterminate, and Snatcher accordingly gets more support from the citizens as his ambition grows bigger over  several years.

theboxtrolls01 Meanwhile, we are also introduced to a young boy who have lived with Boxtrolls in their underground world below the city. He was brought into this place by one of the Boxtrolls when he was very young, and he was named Eggs just because of a cardboard box he was wearing at that time. Not so surprisingly, Boxtrolls are actually gentle scavengers good at making or inventing various things from the scraps they collect from the city above every night, and Fish, who took Eggs from somewhere in the city under a rather mysterious circumstance, has kindly taken care of Eggs for several years along with his fellow Boxtrolls.

Eggs has naturally come to see himself as one of them despite his different appearance, but now their happy life below the city is under more threats from Snatcher and his thugs. When Fish happens to be caught by them during one night, Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright) decides to go up to the city to rescue Fish, and, as looking around the city under the broad daylight, and he is naturally horrified by the distorted image of Boxtrolls – and how that wrong image is accepted by the people of the city without any doubt.

Winnie (voiced by Elle Fanning), a plucky little girl who is the mayor’s neglected daughter, also believes that Boxtrolls are hideous monsters to be erased, but she is curious about them none the less. After she happens to be involved into Eggs’ circumstance, it does not take much time for her to realize how she and others are wrong about Boxtrolls, but then she and Eggs come to learn of something more than expected as Snatcher is about to commence the final stage of his nefarious plan.

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While not hurrying itself, the movie gives us a number of spirited stop-motion animation sequences full of charms and details. I enjoyed the shabby but lovely sights of Boxtrolls’ underground place as looking around its painstaking details, and I also liked a frantic dance sequence at the mayor’s house in which various characters are busily dancing together in the hall as Eggs and Winnie are trying to evade Snatcher’s pursuit. A brief scene during the end credits later shows us that a considerable amount of time and efforts were put into every second of the stop-motion animation in the film, and you will appreciate more of what the directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi and their crew achieve on the screen. While they were certainly helped by CGI in some parts, the visuals in the film are still based on the real objects moved bit by bit under their meticulous operation, and that imbues the film with distinctive qualities to savor.

The actors cast for voice performances did a good job of injecting different personalities into their characters. As the villain of the story, Ben Kingsley has the most fun with his deliciously hateful character, and you will be further amused by the way his character gets his wish in the end. While Nick Frost and Richard Ayoade have small moments of humor as the henchmen who are quite philosophical about their existence, Jared Harris is suitably stiff and haughty as the mayor who usually cares more about cheese than his city, and Isaac Hempstead Wright and Elle Fanning bring innocence and spirits into their respective lead characters.

“The Boxtroll” is the latest work from the Laika company, which previously produced “Coraline” (2009) and “ParaNorman” (2012). Like these two animation films, “The Boxtroll” is made with care and style, and it is an enjoyable experience on the whole although it may require some patience from you due to its rather slow start. It is not great, but it comes with flavor like a tasty piece of cheese, and I enjoyed it with enough delight and amusement.

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