Overview/Rating/Length: Archibald Snatcher devises a plan to get a spot in the Cheese Guild and a place among the aristocracy of the town of Cheesebridge by eliminating the boxtrolls, benign creatures that live below the town and like to tinker with things. He underestimates the power of self-determination and the character of the boxtrolls, however. Rated: PG; Laika Entertainment; 97 minutes.
It’s a Gouda Time: Let me start by saying that the cheese puns were the least of the delights of this film – and the puns were pretty great. The Boxtrolls was enjoyable start to finish, but what was truly remarkable was how it took an absurd steampunk–meets-Roald Dahl kind of world and made it not only perfectly believable (Of course a vaguely Victorian society with a cheese-obsessed aristocracy would have a population of gear-loving trolls wearing boxes living underneath it. I would expect nothing else!) but also used it to explore notions of good and evil, and identity-versus-appearance. The film, apart from being fun and well-paced, was kind of philosophy lite.
Beyond Gouda and Evil: At the beginning of the film, Snatcher’s henchmen have a brief conversation in which one wonders whether boxtrolls grasp the duality of good and evil, while the other points out how nice it is to know you’re the good guy, as he traps a sweet little boxtroll and hauls him away. You may think this is simply for irony and laughs, and the discussion of good and evil ends there, but no! This film explores the different forms of evil – from evil done in the belief that one is doing good, to the evil of doing nothing at all, to the evil of personal gain at the expense of others’ well-being. In addition to its discussion of good and evil, the film works in a message about identity, highlighting the importance of being yourself, and cautioning that what you want most may not be what’s best for you—a pretty standard children’s movie moral, but worth emphasizing nonetheless.
Cogs and Gears and Wheels (of cheese): The Boxtrolls wouldn’t be half as charming as it is if it weren’t for the incredible effort put into the stop-motion animation and the set design. The boxtrolls themselves are sweet and engaging, while Snatcher and Madame Frou Frou are wonderfully grotesque, and in a way that seems unique to this film. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that the skin of the characters – particularly the villains – is not a solid tone, but a mixture of sickly greens, purples, and taupes. It’s beautifully done, and makes the villainous characters that much more disgusting. The town of Cheesebridge is reminiscent of 19th-century Paris or London – cobbled, foggy, and somewhat dirty – unless you’re of the right class, that is.
A Curd of Caution: This is marketed as a children’s film, but I would be hesitant to take a child younger than, say, ten. The movie is dark – an orphaned boy finds his father, only to learn that he’s lost his mind; people die and do not return. A boy is nearly incinerated. It’s the stuff of nightmares, and I found some scenes unsettling. That said, some of my favorite and most educational childhood films and books were those that didn’t shy away from the truly upsetting, and this film touches on more profound concerns than your typical children’s movie (which is a good thing).
Brie-f Final Words: Although its plot departs from that of Here Be Monsters!, the book on which it is based, The Boxtrolls preserves everything good about the book and adds some philosophy of its own. Combine that with Dada-esque stop-motion animation, and you’ve got a film that delivers something unique, fun, absurd, disturbing, and – again – charming. I could go on, but instead I’ll let you go out and see for yourselves.