With “Coraline” and “ParaNorman,” Laika established itself as a major player in the animated movies field, not to mention one of the few studios keeping stop-motion animation alive. Anyone expecting another first-rate film from them, though, might want to measure their expectations for their latest. “The Boxtrolls” just debuted at Venice, and reviews are highly mixed, sometimes negative. Catherine Bray of HitFix gave the film an “A,” calling it witty and visually rich, while The Wrap’s Alonso Duralde has referred to it as a charmless misfire. Others have argued that while the film’s world, is meticulously realized it isn’t exactly a pleasant place to be.
Mark Adams, Screen Daily
An engagingly dark animated romp, “The Boxtrolls” is very much in the tradition of home studio Laika’s stop-motion hits “Coraline” and “ParaNorman,” but somehow lacks the humour, gothic thrills or left-field charm of its predecessors. Sure there are a few moments of oddball humour and the 3D looks good when it comes to the Boxtrolls underground lair, but it all feels rather simple and lacking in the real cleverness audiences come to expect from such fare. Read more.
Catharine Bray, HitFix
Richard Ayoade gives a hilarious performance voicing conciliatory henchman Mr. Pickles, who doesn’t realize he’s evil. Even after assisting in some pretty nefarious schemes, he’s still “60 to 70% certain” he’s a good guy. Employing a part-childlike, part overly-intellectualized delivery similar to that of his character Moss in UK TV’s “The IT Crowd,” he’s a complete delight. Elle Fanning is likewise superb as Winnie Portley-Rind, a spoiled rich girl with a gruesome imagination but a good heart, who rather enjoys contemplating being terrorized by boxtrolls: “I’m not obsessed, I just can’t stop imagining them gnawing off my toes and wearing the bones as a necklace.” There’s something reminiscent of Miranda Richardson’s line delivery as Queen Elizabeth I in UK TV series Blackadder II, as she resigns herself to her fate after falling into the hands of the boxtrolls: “If you’re going to eat me, just get it over with, I’m sure I’m delicious.” Read more.
Peter Debruge, Variety
Here, the meticulously crafted world is stunning to behold, imagined to the minutest detail and photographed with the sort of dramatic lighting and dynamic camera movement rarely seen in stop-motion. Trouble is, it’s not a place most folks would care to spend any time. Above ground, the humans are ruthless American caricatures of ineffectual European dandies, while the boxtrolls’ domain is even less appealing. It features a few nice touches, like the way they pack up and stack themselves into a neatly ordered cube to sleep, but mostly, it’s a dirty place where vaguely Minion-like creatures eat bugs and live in squalor — hardly a “Peter Pan”-like Neverland that Winnie and audiences can’t wait to visit and hope never to leave. Read more.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
There are some scattered laughs to be found, most of them involving Snatcher’s philosophical henchmen Mr. Pickles (Richard Ayoade) and Mr. Trout (Nick Frost), but they disappear for long stretches at a time. (There’s one particularly funny gag involving a rim-shot; in another movie, it would be but a passing amusement, but here it stands aloft like the Mount Olympus of Comedy.) Worst of all, “The Boxtrolls” operates in a realm of ugliness; the little beasties aren’t interesting to look at, the humans are grotesque, and the sets lean toward the grimly industrial, the mechanical hodgepodge, or the blandly storybook-village approach. Nothing to see here, even with your 3D glasses on. Read more.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
There’s no shortage of plot here and yet somehow it never gathers much steam, shuffling from one busy set-piece to the next without fostering investment in characters good or bad. While Dario Marianelli’s robust score spells drama and action, even the requisite rollercoaster-like chase scenes fail to build excitement. And the more dialogue-driven moments are often sluggish and dull, particularly when the writers start underlining their themes about how loving families come in many forms, and how packaging matters less than what’s inside. Read more.