Friday 19 September 2014

Review: The Boxtrolls

World of Blackout Film Review

The Boxtrolls Poster

The Boxtrolls (3D)
Cert: PG / 97 mins / Dir. Graham Annable & Anthony Stacchi
WoB Rating: 5/7

It's almost (almost) as if animated films in the twenty first century have become too clean, too polished. And not just visually, either. It's almost (almost) as if all character foibles (and in the case of 'villains', entire defining traits) need to be ironed out, sanitised or fixed by the closing credits (sequels notwithstanding). Even with this in mind as I was watching, The Boxtrolls seemed to feature a layer of delightful sweat, which wouldn't quite let me love it, however much I admired what was in front of me. Although it was only published in book-form in 2005, the story has a true Dahl-esque feel to it, where even the characters you're rooting for are charmingly flawed.

The story of a young boy raised underground by non-human scavenger creatures and his subsequent re-acquaintance with the surface-world, The Boxtrolls carries themes of family, identity and societal unrest that would probably be handled far more cloyingly by one of the major animation studios. That said, I don't think the film has the immediacy of Laika's previous feature, Paranorman, and the aforementioned 'dirty' look and feel may well put off casual audiences and critics alike (although it's going to be a done deal for existing fans of the book).

The animation itself (including the 3D) is absolutely stunning; hand-crafted stop-motion with a fluidity I've never seen before, and the film has a voice-cast to match it perfectly (Ben Kingsley is a particular highlight as cheese-obsessed super villain, Archibald Snatcher). Rolling in at a very respectable 97 minutes (where many computer-animated features are shorter*1), you have to admire the craft, even if nothing else takes your fancy (hang around during the credits for the tiniest glimpse into the scale of making the film). I even thought that the central character's racing helmet may have been a nod to Anakin Skywalker's podracing gear, but a) that may be a generic design, and b) I would think that, wouldn't I?

The Boxtrolls / Star Wars

I was left with the impression that there were areas which could have used further development (the young Eggs playing music with the boxtrolls is seen in a montage at the start of the film then not used again), but the film certainly packs its runtime to maximum effect.

For the younger members of the audience, there'll be as much to disturb them in The Boxtrolls as there will to entertain, which thinking about my favourite books as a child feels about right. Like being trapped in a charming yet macabre dream, The Boxtrolls has a lot to offer. It's just hidden under a layer of grime…

Is the trailer representative of the film?
Pretty much.

Did I laugh, cry, gasp and sigh when I was supposed to?
Kinda, although there are surprisingly few 'jokes' in there.

Does it achieve what it sets out to do?
Almost certainly.

Pay at the cinema, Rent on DVD or just wait for it to be on the telly?
Whatever takes your fancy; the story will work on any size screen, but the animation is beautiful on a big screen.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Maybe a touch, but not enough for you to worry your pretty little head over.

Will I watch it again?
I will, but there's no burning need at the moment.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream?
Didn't catch one.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

And my question for YOU is…
Have you seen any other films this year which make an almost direct homage to Fist Of Fun's Rod Hull character?

Because I've seen one, now.

*1 I'm not saying that computer animation is "easier", by any means, but the physical frame-by-frame effort in a 97 minute stop-motion picture has to be commended when a behemoth like Disney are prepared to put out an 84 minute CGI feature as their Summer standard-bearer.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.


  1. Why does not everyone read this blog?!
    I ran across your blog while searching for trading cards featuring R5D4 (one of my favorite Star Wars characters) and started reading. It's been an embarrassing amount of time and I'm still here.
    Well written, intelligent, and (mostly) right on the money. I'm a jaded, long-time film industry guy who tends to not like anything, but I like this. I'll be back. I hope there's more.
    (Yes, it may have been called “A New Hope” since '79 (though I think it was actually changed in '78, but not matter.), but I was there in '77 so it'll always be Star Wars to me.)

  2. Haha, you're very kind, thank you.

    I don't really have a problem with people referring to the first film as Star Wars. I tend to do it myself when I'm in 'civilian' company, but if we're talking about similarities and differences across films, I find it easier to refer to ANH along with the other titles, then refer to 'Star Wars' as a collective for all of them. It just winds me up when people balk at the title thinking it was a change put in in the 1990s.

    And if you work in the film industry (in whatever capacity), I doff my cap to you. It's an area I'd love to move into (on a behind-the-scenes level), but have no real idea where to start looking. Anyway.

    Thanks for reading/posting :)