Beneath the streets of Cheesebridge, there lives a disgusting band of evil trolls that come out at night to steal and eat the children of the town – or so Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) would have the populace believe.
The truth is that trolls do live in the sewers of Cheesebridge, and though they are smelly, noisy and irreverent, they live in a harmless and endearing community, with intentions more like the Borrowers than the Boogie Man, each Boxtroll having collected rubbish to build a life for themselves underground.
Snatcher runs a business exterminating Boxtrolls in the hope that he will one day be given his White Hat and allowed to enter the Cheese Room, where he will digest the very finest fromage with the upper elites. His lucrative legend emerges from the disappearance of the Trubshaw Baby, who Snatcher believes the Boxtrolls have kidnapped and devoured. In truth, these grimy but lovable Wombles have raised the boy as their own and given him a happy life, but it’s only a matter of time before he discovers that he’s not an orthodox Boxtroll…
What follows is a charming and inventive tale full of rich characters, great jokes, and wondrous design, enabling animation studio Laika to once again prove that films aimed at family audiences can be both sweet and grizzly, with an enchanting weirdness and an absence of sentimentality or condescension.
The Boxtrolls emits an attitude of childish anarchy and playful glee that is both infectious and mesmerising. The film manages to capture the atmosphere of the children’s book from which it was adapted, and youth-orientated fiction more widely, with great effect, and its plot is full of fairy tale qualities and sardonic depictions of adults, children, class, cheese, and everything in between.
The dedication and joy of the cast and crew oozes from every voice, every shot, every piece of animation, and every design feature in the film, lifting the material and giving it an elevated sense of pride and satisfaction that draws its audience in and never lets them go.
Kingsley puts those Jaguar commercials to good use, and has a whale of a time as the villainous Snatcher and his alter ego Madam Frou. There is a desperate sadness and vehemence within Snatcher that makes him more than a cardboard cutout baddy, which is a credit to Kingsley, screenwriters Irena Brignull and Adam Pava, and novelist Alan Snow, whose novel Here Be Monsters! is the source material.
Snatcher’s henchmen make up a veritable Three Stooges-cum-hyenas-from-The Lion King in the form of Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost and Tracy Morgan, all of whom are brilliant. Meanwhile, Jared Harris is spot on as the bumbling burgomaster Lord Portly-Rind, and Elle Fanning is delightful as his depraved little angel of a daughter Winnie, who has more brains than the whole town put together.
Below the ground, Dee Bradley Baker provides a wonderful array of grunts, groans and gibberish for the majority of the key Boxtrolls, including the paternal Fish, who raises young Eggs (the Trubshaw Baby) from nipper to whippersnapper, charming the audience along the way. Isaac Hempstead-Wright plays Eggs with a graceful innocence and honesty that so befits such an intrepid (yet most certainly accidental) hero.
Moreover, Boxtrolls boasts some splendid animation, with a horrible but amazing depiction of Snatcher’s cheese allergy amongst the finest set pieces. There is a lovely idea for the end credits that warrants staying for a few minutes, and allows the audience to see some of the magic behind the film and appreciate the extent to which the animators at Laika fuel and contribute to the overall piece.
The animation is, however, characteristically grotesque, meaning that as well as the more humourous moments, the lighting and pace of certain scenes is suspenseful, frank and dark, so be ready for some shocks alongside the laughs. For this reason, the film may be deemed by some parents to be a little too much for young children, but it is not as creepy as (the admittedly brilliant) Coraline (2009), and the characters are cute enough to cut through the more sinister elements of the plot.
One of the best things about Laika is that they don’t sanitise their films or shy away from the dark, though do legitimately feel that they spend too much time lurking there. It would be a shame, however, to deny both children and adults this great little film, so hopefully audiences will give it a chance. After all, the Boxtrolls are so irresistibly likeable.
The world of Cheesebridge and its inhabitants is a very strange one indeed, but what a wonderful place to end up in.