Based on the kids book Here Be Monsters by Alan Anow, it uses of a predominantly British cast with the likes of Ben Kingsley, Richard Ayoade, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost all voicing characters and there are just as many discussions about the nature of humanity and heroism as there are slapstick pratfalls and more standard animated kids film fare.
A story about perception, monsters and what it is to be human, The Boxtrolls follows the titular creatures, each named after the words on whatever box they are wearing and the human baby Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) that they raise in their world. Meanwhile above ground the people of Cheesebridge are ruled by the white hat wearing cheese experts who are more concerned with the cheese tasting than dealing with any actual problems. When they hire the cross-dressing Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley) to round up and exterminate the boxtrolls, it’s up to Eggs and the disillusioned daughter of Cheesebridge’s ruler Winnie Portly-Rind (Elle Fanning) to convince the people that the boxtrolls aren’t baby-snatching monsters.
Aside from the craftsmanship of using stop-motion animation, which has proved so successful in their previous projects like Coraline and ParaNorman, Laika prove to be both cine-literate and masters of rather grim black comedy for children. The design of Cheesebridge and its inhabitants cleverly blur the distinction between human and monster, while the Boxtrolls themselves are almost child-like in their behaviour and attitude.
Natural builders, they’re not being exterminated, but rather captured and forced into a slave labour force under the guise of ˜protecting the people.’ Talk about modern political satire, and just when you think they might be losing their audience by being too on the nose there’s a fun chase, slapstick caper or grotesque swelling face to bring the narrative back to the ground (or underground).
The voice cast are excellent with special mentions to Ayoade and Frost whose duo of Mr. Trout and Mr. Pickles have endless discussions about whether they’re heroes or henchmen, providing a nice counterpoint to Kingsley’s obsessed cross-dressing villain.
It’s wonderful that in an age where Disney’ princesses can sing about oppression and social expectations, that Laika just come along with a bunch of cute critters and blow them out of the water. There are some pacing issues early on and it takes a little too long in the setup of Eggs as a character, but once it gets going The Boxtrolls is a rip-roaring, gruesome, exciting film for kids and parents alike.