October has arrived, and all things macabre signal the approach of Halloween at month’s end. I held off a little bit on this critique for that very reason. In fact, I’m planning to make as many reviews and features, as possible, these next 31 days, focus on all things dark and ghastly. And the folks from Laika studios don’t disappoint in that regard, with the release of the highly anticipated “The Boxtrolls”. Were your kids creeped out by 2009’s grim, yet exquisite “Coraline”? Did the youngsters flinch during the morbid, but dazzling “ParaNorman”? Just keep moving along then, because “The Boxtrolls” could be the most grotesque and repulsive one yet. But I mean that in a GOOD way. Tired of plucky princesses and interminable, Broadway-style songs, gathering all the recent animation box office? Then look no further. Yes, a few kids in attendance(amongst our theater audience, anyway), got a little jolt occasionally, but “The Boxtrolls” is fine for most. My six-year-old LOVED it, thought the 3D was lots of fun, and appreciated the ick factor too. I believe he’d be keen on seeing it yet again. Take that, Disney!
Subterranean creatures, that snatch and eat children according to legend, are terrifying the European town of Cheesebridge. When the sinister Archibald Snatcher(Ben Kingsley, in top vocal form), promises Lord Portley-Rind(a pompously effective Jared Harris)that he’ll exterminate all the “Boxtrolls”, his eyes are on the prize of being included in Portley-Rind’s snooty, cheese-sampling inner circle. But it turns out the Boxtrolls are pretty peaceful, which doesn’t deter Snatcher from his nasty intentions. The benevolent little critters are named by the thrown away cartons they wear as clothes/shells. For instance, if a little beastie is adorning a carton that sports the label “Fish”, that becomes his moniker. There’s “Shoes” and “Fragile”…get it? And our focus falls on an atypical Boxtroll, an actual little boy wearing a box that is labeled “Eggs”(Isaac Hempstead-Wright)…which becomes his name. Soon, Eggs is teaming up with Portley-Rind’s lonely daughter, Winnie(the talented Elle Fanning)to defeat the evil Snatcher and his henchman, and rescue the misunderstood little Boxtrolls.
This stop-motion stuff is old school and fascinating, and if you stay through half of the ending credits, you’ll get a nifty little glimpse of how it’s all done. The design of the town of Cheesbridge, along with the Boxtrolls underground city, is absolutely incredible, richly detailed, and looks superb in 3D. Oh, I guess the direction from Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, doesn’t quite approach the lofty level of Henry Selick(of “Coraline” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” fame)…but it ain’t bad. Also, the script lags every now and then, but it’s a mostly inspired storyline. The good guys aren’t completely good, and the bad guys aren’t inexcusably bad–so there’s some nuance here. And with strong voice work from Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Tracey Morgan, Laraine Newman and James Urbaniak(as well as those previously mentioned), everything fleshes out quite beautifully and leads to a rousing and explosive finale. Like some depth to your animated films, with a healthy dollop of hideous and frightful thrown into the mix? Join “The Boxtrolls” during the season of Hallow’s Eve. It’s a spooky good time.