We parents are living a golden age of non-annoying children’s entertainment, when we get to go see “The Boxtrolls” under the auspices of a playdate. Witty, funny, fast paced and not even two hours long, I think I might have enjoyed it more than my daughter and her friend did. Above all, I feasted my eyes on the gloriously Dickensian production design of the town and people of Cheesebridge, and the titular Boxtrolls dwelling below.
While computer animation has produced plenty of amazingly slick, eye-popping films that I have certainly loved, it’s also wonderful to see the hand-made quality of stop motion animation like this from Portland, Oregon based animation studio Laika. Although computer assisted, films like “The Boxtrolls,” “Paranorman” and their Oscar-winning masterpiece “Coraline” stand out in their marvelously tactile physical presence. I could write a separate article just about the details on their little shoes.
The town of Cheesebridge is strictly social stratified, with the cheese-scarfing White Hats controlling everything and generally lording over the lowly Red Hats. From the ranks of the Red hats, a desperate man named Snatcher dreams of social climbing and decides to do so by vowing to eradicate of the town’s Boxtrolls, capitalizing on dim rumors to fuel public fear of the shadowy figures.
The town’s hatred of Boxtrolls centers around one important event, the capture of a baby boy. Above ground, Boxtrolls are feared, reviled and hunted. Below ground, a very different picture of the creatures exists and living as one of them is “Eggs,” the human baby, who believes himself to be one of them.
In their subterranean world of repurposed human junk, the clever Boxtrolls invent all manner of whimsical clockwork life hacks, and their charming steampunk world recalls the grimy glory of French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (“The City of lost Children,” “Mic-Macs,”) run through the sensibility of “The Borrowers.” They all wear cardboard boxes as clothing and also as a sort of turtle shell, and each character is known by whatever is written on his box, hence “Eggs,” and also “Fish” and “Fragile.”
As the revolting Snatcher closes in on the Boxtroll population, Eggs is drawn to the surface to save his friends, and takes up with the daughter of the most powerful White Hat in town, a hilariously morbid little girl who doesn’t get enough attention from her father. Together they must uncover the truth about Eggs’ past and reveal the true, gentle nature of the Boxtrolls to the people of Cheesebridge. While suspense is not a huge factor, particularly for adults, I will only say that things are resolved through bravery, ingenuity, and the leveraging of a severe lactose intolerance.
“The Boxtrolls” is now playing at all multiplex theaters.