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Going in to see The Boxtrolls, it is quite easy to get excited about the pedigree brought to the film by certain performers who are voicing main characters, but the film does not work, it is an American attempt at British Humor that just does not make it. The film loses its way very quickly at the beginning and never recovers from its directionless meandering. At the start of the movie screening attended by this reviewer a number of the audience were laughing or chuckling at events on screen. However, after the initial 15 minutes of the film’s open passed, the amusement dried up and younger members of the audience lost interest in whatever was happening in the stop-motion film.
Produced by the same people who gave audiences the brilliantly quirky and scary Coraline in 2009 and more recently ParaNorman, production company Laika Entertainment’s track record has not been too bad until now. This “miss” is not down to the actors in the film, Sir Ben Kingsley, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Jared Harris, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, Toni Collette, Elle Fanning and Isaac Hempstead Wright all did what was needed for the film, but sadly it was not enough to save the odd and over-long (at around two hours) feature.
The film follows the orphaned Trubshaw lad “Eggs,” so called because he wears a box labelled “eggs,” who is raised by a group of rubbish collecting creatures of the night called The Boxtrolls. Since the disappearance of both Trubshaw junior and his father Herbert, a nasty and overbearing villain tells people that the trash collectors are monsters who eat babies as well as grown up people. This baddie, one Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Sir Ben Kingsley) promises to rid the town of the creatures and in return he wants a white hat, like the one worn by Lord Portley-Rind (voiced by Jared Harris) and a place on the cheese tasting committee.
As the Boxtrolls decrease in number Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), Fish and Shoe, two trolls, are spotted by Portley-Rind’s daughter Winnie (Elle Fanning). The girl gets caught up with the collectors and after she gets over her initial disappointment that they do not eat the flesh off of anyone’s face, she attempts to get her father to help Eggs and his friends. The film feels British but with an American’s idea of what English humor is.
The whole does not match the sum of this film’s parts. Separately each bit of the film should work together in a comedic harmony which appeals to the younger audience members and also entertains the older parents of same. Boxtrolls misses the mark. It looks brilliant, the stop motion is on par with anything that Nick Park (Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, The Wrong Trousers) has ever produced but looking great does not insure an above average film.
The Boxtrolls has a good number of Brits in main roles, Jared Harris, Sir Ben Kingsley, Pegg and Frost, Ayoade and Wright are all English actors, Richard Ayoade even comes from rural Suffolk. Hence this cast insures a certain amount of authenticity to the film performance wise. There are other things in the film which allude to the United Kingdom. Eggs, aka Trubshaw Jr and his father Herbert Trubshaw feels like a sort of cinematic “in-joke.”
Film star David Niven (Separate Tables, Around the World in 80 Days, et al) had a best friend named Michael Trubshawe whom he met when serving in Malta. When Niven began his career he worked his friend’s name in every film he could. In Wuthering Heights Trubshawe was the name of David’s character’s dog. In real life, Michael was a tall, allegedly irreverent and amusing man who had a large mustache, just like Herbert Trubshaw in the stop motion film. Whether the filmmakers intended this connection is not known, but this is not the only U.K. unique “character” allusion in the film.
Main villain Archibald Snatcher looks like an animated version of Aussie entertainer/actor Barry Humphries, aka Dame Edna Everage. Humphries moved to London in the 1960s and started his long television career where he brought several larger than life characters into British homes like Dame Edna and politician Sir Les Patterson. It is as Dame Edna that the performer is best known. Edna is a singing comic creation and Madame Frou Frou in The Boxtrolls cannot be anything other than a huge nod and wink to the Australian’s famous alter ego.
Sadly, these two instances of adding British authenticity to a film made by Americans are the only things that really work and the attempt is appreciated, even if the overall feeling one gets from watching The Boxtrolls is one of boredom. Based on Alan Snow’s 2005 novel Here Be Monsters Boxtrolls has not one character that an audience can support apart from Eggs. Younger children in the screening bored quickly and the comedic antics of the trolls did little to dissuade them from wandering the aisles and talking during the film. The film’s humor overall missed the mark with the older members of the audience except for a few instances, Eggs at the party did elicit some laughs. The Boxtrolls opens on September 26, avoid taking small children as they will be bored. Prepare to love the stop motion animation and little else about the film.
By Michael Smith
Oxford University Press
Niv: Graham Lord