By Anna Crane (Norfolk)
The Boxtrolls is like a well packaged parcel, opened up to reveal nothing inside. Directed by Anthony Stacchi and adapted from Alan Snow’s Here Be Monsters!, the film follows a predictable formula to the point of exhaustion. Pushing the ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ moral, the film presents us with ugly little creatures named ‘Boxtrolls’, who, while the townspeople believe them to be blood thirsty monsters, are in-fact shy, timid, preferring to build things over feasting on human flesh.
Living underground and wearing boxes as clothes, they adopt a human baby christened Eggs (after the label on his box), who they raise as a Boxtroll. Substitute the Boxtrolls for gorillas and you’ve got Tarzan. Of course the film needs an antagonist who comes in the form of our Dickensian villain, aptly named Archibald Snatcher. In a rare, yet unusual glimmer of originality, Snatcher wishes to eliminate the Boxtrolls in order to prove himself to the town and thus gain a ‘White-hat’. Why does he desire a white-hat? The wearer of a white-hat awards some sort of privilege, a higher status akin to perhaps a mayor and his inner-circle.
While a villain desiring higher status is not particularly original, it is the honour the hat bestows that is inventive: The bearer of a white-hat gets to sit in the ‘tasting room’ and eat cheese, the way those of the upper-classes might drink wine. Cheese is a big deal in this film. So, our villain ultimately wants to belong, despite the fact that he cannot since he has an unfortunate allergy to cheese, which causes him to grow a monstrous appearance (the monster is the man, the man the monster, you get the drift).
Belonging is an important factor to the dynamic of this story, it is once Snatcher begins to kidnap the trolls and Eggs is forced to the surface world that he discovers he does not belong as he thought he did. Cue Winnie, a Jessie from Toy Story look-a-like voiced well by Elle Fanning, who acts as the Jane to Eggs’ Tarzan. While arguably the most interesting character of the story, her ‘Smurfette’ status in a film full of men (there is not a single female Boxtroll) grows slightly infuriating, as does her troubled relationship with her father, who would rather eat cheese then talk to his daughter.
Well, there is one other female principle character: Frou Frou who (spoiler) turns out to be Snatcher in drag. A villainous cross-dresser, should we be mildly offended or down-right disgusted? While a standout musical number sung by hers truly is certainly a highlight, I felt rather uncomfortable at the use of this odd device to vilify a man dressed as a woman, particularly in this day and age.
Amongst the oddly dull and badly paced chaos, Eggs must save the Boxtrolls, rescue his father, defeat Snatcher and bring the town in harmony with the Boxtrolls, teaching them that they are not the monsters they thought they were. It all results in a rather strange climax that leaves you feeling that you’ve really just seen this all before. While it is certainly visually interesting, even this wares off eventually, and the smoky streets and innovative underworld of the Boxtrolls becomes slightly monotonous to look at.
While it obviously draws inspiration from the likes of Tim Burton and genius works such as The Nightmare Before Christmas or even Coraline, the darkish tone is hit and miss and doesn’t come close to these previous fares. The emotional pay-out isn’t as effective as it should be, the moral is overused, and the characters are one-dimensional and even the much needed humour falls flat.
While this is certainly geared more towards younger children, I must say that not a single child at the cinema laughed. Not one. My advice? Introduce your child to a Burton stop-motion-animation and give them something to really bite in to. With their mouth.