There’s just something about stop-motion animation. Maybe it’s the enormous amount of work that goes into it. More likely it’s the incredible amount of detail you end up with when you’re filling your screen with real objects rather than pixels. Whatever it is, I couldn’t resist The Box Trolls, which was adapted from an Alan Snow book I have not read by the people who did Paranorman.
A boy raised underground by box trolls joins forces with a neglected girl to rescue the harmless creatures from the town exterminator.
Box Trolls is ghoulishly cute like Paranorman. It also has that underlying theme of ‘just because we’re different doesn’t mean we can’t get along.’ It’s not as funny or as scary (or as good) as Paranorman, but there’s so much detail in the sets and characters that you might not even notice.
No, seriously, like an actual witch’s hat.
Under the surface of Cheesebridge, there’s a huge cavern where the box trolls live. During the day they sleep or putter around making wacky inventions out of garbage, and during the night they prowl the streets of Cheesebridge digging through people’s trash. They talk in wordless grumbles and hide inside the boxes they wear to avoid detection.
A strategy which relies on there being a lot of unclaimed boxes already lying around in the street.
Then one day Fish (Dee Bradley Baker) and Shoe (Steve Blum) take a baby (Max Mitchell). We don’t immediately find out why – perhaps it’s because their entire population seems to be male. Seriously, do they reproduce asexually or were there so many dudes involved in this project that it never occurred to them to make a female box troll? Anyway they put the baby in a box, bring him home broken toys, and raise him as a box troll. It’s adorable.
It’s a little kid’s dream: no baths. Ever.
Up on the surface Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) has instituted a war on box trolls. Snatcher’s goal in life is to eat fancy cheese with the aristocrats (despite his frightening cheese allergy). So he uses the baby snatching as an excuse to extort a white hat (read: position on the town council) from the mayor, Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris).
Death to box trolls! Bring on the nightmares!
Ten years later Eggs has grown into the voice of Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran from Game of Thrones) and most of the box trolls have fallen victim to the new Cheesebridge exterminator. If you think extermination is a little too dark for a kids’ movie, you’re right. Luckily Snatcher’s definition of ‘exterminate’ is more like ‘enslave’ so the possibility of Eggs mounting a rescue is possible.
Ha ha, look kids, wacky rescue hijinks! Forget we told you they were all dead.
Ten-year-old Eggs is scrawny, snaggle-toothed, wears clothes that are about 15 sizes too small, and has no idea he’s not a box troll. His hair also really looks like it hasn’t been washed in ten years. His bubble bursts when he meets Lord Portley-Rind’s daughter Winnie (Elle Fanning). Winnie is bossy, ruddy-cheeked, round-bottomed, and morbidly obsessed with being eaten by box trolls.
And will they send my boiled bones home to my father?
It’s a shame, though, that Winnie is the only well-developed female character. Her mother is voiced by Toni Collette, but I can’t remember her ever doing anything other than scolding her husband for his fascination with Snatcher’s alter-ego, the singer Madame Frou Frou. In true children’s movie fashion, Frou Frou fools no one but the clueless grown ups.
Madame Frou Frou! Are you perhaps related to Count Olaf?
Snatcher’s grand plan involves Eggs, the box trolls, Winnie’s father, Egg’s father, cheese, white hats, a giant machine, and henchmen who think they’re the good guys (Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost, and Tracey Morgan). The plan is complicated by the muddied reasoning necessary to explain why they backed off some of the more horrible aspects to avoid giving kids nightmares.
We’re HENCHMEN?! I knew it!!
However, that shouldn’t bother you too much unless you actually think about it. And you probably won’t because you’ll be too distracted trying to take in all the details. The tattered thread of Egg’s sweater. The crooked townhouses lining the street. The red and green highlights in the faces of the adults. Snaggle teeth. Conveyor belts made out of rolling pins. Cobbestones. Lace frills. Corrugated carboard. There are always a million things to look at.
So should you take your kids to Box Trolls? Yes… it’s cute, it’s about getting along and standing up for yourself. But it’s also a little creepy, so don’t bring really little kids (i.e. preschool age) or any that are easily frightened. If they could handle The Nightmare Before Christmas or Coraline they’ll be okay. If not, just go by yourself and look at all the things.