By Bill Arceneaux
If there is one thing I really enjoy in a kids movie, it’s unintelligible dialogue from the main characters. In The Boxtrolls, creatures of folklore who live underground a city/state/country(?) obsessed with cheese, speak to one another mostly in grunts and screeches. They KNOW exactly what they’re saying. Each one of them is named after the label on the box they wear, so they KNOW English, but choose their own monstrous language. Why choose to speak and live this way? Did they have a choice?
Because we can’t understand their words, the boxtrolls themselves are animated with very proficient body language, making their communication skills universal. Watching them loot the town at night of junkards is amusing, as the antics remind one of classic silent slapstick. If the movie didn’t have a single human in it, I’d prefer it be silent, actually. Not that the peculiar noises bothered me…
Very much in the vein of Roald Dahl (and even a touch of Angus Oblong at times), the movie is a charmingly crafted wonder. Where The Lego Movie merely appeared to be stop motion (heavy CGI was used), The Boxtrolls is this to a T. No matter the project, stop motion always amazes me, not just for the time spent in capturing the footage, but the time spent in creating the miniature world. And in Laika’s latest flick, the time and effort was used well. After watching sequences from city streets and in the sewers, with light hitting the environments and surfaces – showing textures and colors – I started to forget that I was watching animation. Visually, it was more engrossing and depthful than any live action 3D could ever hope to be.
Unlike The Lego Movie, however, The Boxtrolls is not a film that takes many risks. Some may exist, sure, with parallels that could be made to the plight of these creatures and what happened in Nazi Germany, but to make such a comparison would be stretching things a bit. This is a movie with multiple morals and messages, but is subtle enough to suit and tailor itself to any audience member, who’ll get out of it whatever they want. It’s universal in that anyone can grasp it, but not so much that any one meaning is more important than another. Pay attention not to the clicks and spits of its speech, but to the grace of its movement.
Clicks and spits might be a bit harsh, as honestly, it’s a very well-told story of family, identity and obsession. In fact, you could probably show this movie to a screenwriting class for some kind of examination. The structure of the story is solid, but the space inside doesn’t always match the style of the architecture. Of course, this depends on the tenants mostly, and I fear I’ve gone too far from the metaphor to determine who they are. It could very well be the audience, as we are very much absorbed into this world. If this is the case, then opinion will vary person to person. For this person, The Boxtrolls is one of the most technically sound films of 2014.
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