I’m a big fan of LAIKA and their stop-motion animation. After Coraline and ParaNorman, I had to admit that I had some pretty high hopes for The Boxtrolls. To their credit, they met and exceeded my expectations. While they’ve only put out three feature-length films to date, they’ve all been extraordinary in their own way. I foresee a bright future for this studio.

The Review

The titular Boxtrolls live in caverns underneath the ridiculous and tiered city of Cheesebridge. Unfairly considered monsters by the world above, they’re actually scavengers with a talent for making things. At the beginning of the film, they’re shown raising a human baby. That baby soon grows into a child during a sweet montage and becomes Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), one of the heroes of our story.

While Eggs is growing up in an environment with a lot of doting family members, Winnie (Elle Fanning) is trying to vie for her father’s attention. Unfortunately, Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) is far more interested in tasting cheese than he is in his daughter’s happiness and well-being. This understandably frustrates ghoulishly-minded Winnie who retaliates by throwing her father’s hat out into the streets. That’s what leads to the introduction of the villain of this bizarre fairy tale: Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley).

All Snatcher wants is to join the Lord Portley-Rind and the rest of the White Hats. The White Hats are a group of four well-to-do and important men of Cheesebridge who sit in the hallowed Tasting Room. They spend their time there tasting cheese and occasionally talking about what’s going on in their city. To succeed in his aims, Snatcher is willing to go to any and all lengths.

Snatcher extracts the following promise from Lord Portley-Rind: He will receive his very own white hat once he has proven that he has exterminated all of the nasty Boxtrolls. This is what really kicks the plot into gear. Snatcher and his crew whittle down the ranks of the Boxtrolls until only Eggs and a few remain. When Eggs’ closest friend and father figure is taken, the Boxtroll boy decides that enough is enough. It’s time to save his friends and found family.

Before I continue, I just want to take a moment to appreciate two of Snatcher’s posse: Mr. Trout (Nick Frost) and Mr. Pickles (Richard Ayoade). They have some of the best banter in the entire film as they explore who they are as characters. Their meta conversations are amazing and one of the things I loved most about the movie.

This is a dark movie. It’s not horror movie dark or anything, but it’s not your typical children’s movie fare. This is to be expected considering LAIKA‘s previous films. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this for very small children or those easily freaked out as Snatcher is decidedly villainous. The children in the audience for the viewing I caught seemed fine with it, though. It just depends on the particular child in question and their comfort zone.

As with many children’s movies, LAIKA wrote in a number of jokes that only the older folks in the audience would get. Studios know that they’ll make parents far happier about taking their children to movies if there’s something in the experience for them. The humor used in The Boxtrolls has a distinctly British flavor which totally puts it right up my alley.

The Boxtrolls is a movie that embraces differences which is growing into a recurring theme with LAIKA‘s work. I think that’s something that should be applauded, particularly in films marketed toward children. On top of all of that, it’s such a fantastic visual treat. While so many studios are taking the digital and computer animated road, LAIKA’s dedication to the art of stop-motion animation is amazing. They’re also not afraid to show that process and shed some light on the time and effort it takes to create their movies.

I loved The Boxtrolls and my family enjoyed the experience as well. I’m just going to reiterate that it is a dark movie and is occasionally gross. Not too gross (except for one bit at the end, but it’s brief), of course, but it’s not always pretty. It’s also received some criticisms which I’ll be addressing in my slightly spoilery final thoughts. It has some great messages about what it means to be family and embracing one’s individualism and quirks. All told, it’s a great October movie to attend with your slightly older children. Also, stick around during the credits if you can. You won’t regret it.

Final Thoughts

The first teaser for The Boxtrolls was a charming one about different kinds of families. It drew the ire of conservatives everywhere for its inclusion of “non-traditional” families. With that in mind, there were a number of folks in the LGBTQA+ community who were pinning some high hops for inclusion in this movie, particularly considering the reveal in ParaNorman (I’m not going to spoil that for people who haven’t seen that fantastic film). Prior to the film’s release, a blog post began circulating about how the movie was, in fact, transmysoginistic. Later, another piece came along to rebut those claims. I’m in agreement with the latter but I can see how the former may have formed that opinion.

As I mentioned in my review, Snatcher is a villain who’s ruthlessly dedicated to his dream of joining the White Hats in the Tasting Room. If it helps him to achieve his goal, he’ll do it. One of the tactics he employs to further his aims is to dress in drag and become Madame Frou Frou, a a singer who is beloved by the town. In this guise, he is not only granted access to parties he’d never be able to attend as simply Snatcher, but he is able to spread anti-Boxtroll propaganda in a seemingly innocuous way. Whereas I can see where members of the trans* community could see themselves as the butt of a long, cruel joke, I think they’re missing the part where Snatcher’s being in drag isn’t the joke itself. It’s his single-mindedness and willingness to stop at nothing to get into the Tasting Room that’s getting the laughs.

I was about to launch into talking about how propaganda is more palatable when coming from friendly sources, like how the American government and military turned to animation studios during WWII to spread some propaganda to help the war effort, but then my train of thought derailed. So, I’m just going to leave this sentence there and move on. I’ve got a couple of other things I want to cover.

Much as I enjoyed the movie, I was annoyed that there were only two obviously female characters with any sort of major speaking roles. There’s Winnie and her mother, Lady Portley-Rind (Toni Collette). While that bugged me because, seriously, not every movie needs to be all about guys doing stuff, I adored Winnie. What I adored most about her was that she was, as I said in my review, ghoulishly minded. So often we are shown that little girls are sweetness and light. They are cute, prissy, and don’t like gross things at all. Oh no, not our Winnie. She loves worst-case scenarios with blood and gore. It’s awesome.

In summation, there are a lot of great things that LAIKA is trying to accomplish with its films. I like that they don’t go for the sanitized, Disney-fied route to children’s entertainment. I like that they push boundaries and comfort levels. I just want to see them do more and with a greater sense of balance. They are on a trajectory that’s heading for some fantastic work and I’m along for the ride.