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REVIEW: “The BoxTrolls”

REVIEW: "The BoxTrolls"

Looking
for a quick, inexpensive Halloween costume? Get some empty boxes with their
contents clearly labeled. Select sizes based on who will wear them and you’re
done (green makeup and accessories optional). Then if The BoxTrolls catches on, get ready to dazzle everyone. Party City may
see a slump if this movie is a big hit.

The
premise of The BoxTrolls is fairly
simple. A lovable community of warmhearted, industrious creatures make their
home under a city where a corrupt official has convinced the populace that they
are evil monsters.

The
film combines an effective mélange of styles with the tried and true. The fearsome
beings are the real heroes and the chief accuser is the “real monster” (a
character in The BoxTrolls actually
says that line, much as Belle said it to Gaston). Two characters touch hands in
wonder like Jane and Tarzan. The trolls speak like Stitch, the Gremlins or the
Rabbids (among the actors voicing them is Dee Bradley Baker, who is also Perry
the Platypus on Phineas and Ferb).

Their
boxes are the trolls’ only clothes. When they go to sleep, they form a huge
cube as if they lived in the stockroom of Target. One person’s trash is a
BoxTroll’s treasure—they cleverly craft discarded objects into mechanical
marvels (they’d get along great with Ariel). And this record collector had to
love them for figuring out how to play an opera disc (on the “Cheesy Cow
Records” label) upon an old gramophone. Though their little E.T. heart-lights
aren’t visible, the souls of the trolls shine just as brightly.

“Bright”
is not a term commonly associated with the makers of Coraline and ParaNorman.
While the two earlier films have their Edward
Scissorhands
-ish emotional centers, The
BoxTrolls
is the brightest and most upbeat of all three. That’s not to say Laika
went all Strawberry Shortcake on us—there are plenty of leeches, viscous fluids
and other creepy images. The sole song, written by Eric Idle, is a decadent Penny
Dreadful dirge, the polar opposite of “Let It Go.” 

While
the film nods toward familiar themes, it twists them into unusual shapes. The
town is impossibly vertical, the narrow streets steeped in bleak Les Miz/Tale of Two Cities murk, while
bright, sanitized color glows from behind the doors of the privileged. The
visual contrasts belie the theme of virtue behind the unattractive and lowly
and vice-versa. Even cheese, which is key to the story, is alternately
desirable and prestigious as well as smelly and icky when squished. White hats attribute
high position and assumed greatness. But guess what…? (The message is conveyed
with such clarity that there is really no need for one moment near the end in
which one character spells out the point. It’s as if Bill Cosby stopped by to
tell us how Fat Albert helped Rudy learn about teamwork or patience, though
that would have been kind of neat).

At
the center of this contrast is the villain, a venomous, ambitious Archibald
Snatcher (voiced by Sir Ben Kingsley). A John Tenniel-esque hulk suggesting the
undertaker who sang “We’re Despicable” in Mr.
Magoo’s Christmas Carol
, Snatcher dominates the film. He overshadows the
lead characters—often an issue in animated films. It doesn’t help that the
leads sport that modern animation resemblance to Mrs. Incredible and the impish
children in Puffs tissue commercials.

Parents
with small children, or anyone who isn’t fond of the macabre tone of films such
as these, might want to do some checking first. But really, there is much more
to this film than the gross and yucky. There is a lot to like in The BoxTrolls. The only thing I would
caution parents about is to make sure your children don’t try the repeated
“forks in a toaster” gag at home.

The
movie succeeds on its own oddball terms—much like the trolls themselves. Well-paced
and brash, it turns out to be one of this year’s most uniquely entertaining
animated features. Despite a few plot holes, it’s a visual banquet that has an
interesting story to go with it. Some of the plot can be seen a mile away, but
one wants to see how it all turns out anyway.

Most
importantly, do not leave the theater until you see the end title gag—it’s
brilliant. And then, stick around to enjoy the Ronald Searle-like graphics on
the credits. “Jelly!

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