Dwelling under the streets and emerging when the sun goes down to scavenge parts for their wacky inventions, The Boxtrolls are a funny bunch. Well, they’re not. They’re not anything, really. Their language is babble, their actions are cowardly and they’re simply not that interesting to watch. That’s quite a negative thing to to have against characters who’ve got a film named after them.
The film tells the story of an orphaned boy named Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) who was raised by underground cave-dwellingtrash collecting trolls called the Boxtrolls. The Boxtrolls are targeted by an evil exterminator named Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) and Eggs has to save his family from Snatcher.
It starts out well enough, with the animation an instant, striking feature. It’s impressively grotesque, but the surrealism may be a little too much for younger viewers. The line that Tim Burton drew that balanced twisted designs with light humour is overstepped here, and while the film is frequently beautiful to watch unfold, its Gothic design pummels every other aspect into the (brilliant painted) background. Or maybe that was the point, considering both the script and the majority of voice acting is woefully subpar.
Isaac Hempstead-Wright (Game of Thrones) does his best but falls short as Eggs, the orphan boy ‘kidnapped’ by Boxtrolls as a baby, and Ben Kingsley is a joyous highlight who is completely unrecognisable as Archibald Snatcher, a villain worthy of a better film than this. Jared Harris (Moriarty from the recent Sherlock Holmes sequel) reads his lines like he’s telling his kids a night-time story out loud, Elle Fanning’s voice doesn’t stand out in the slightest and the usually hilarious Richard Ayoade (from the British TV series The IT Crowd and The Watch) is the biggest disappointment. Sounding more like a narration than a character, his voice does not fit the henchman character well at all. Oddly, his lines sound like narration too which doesn’t help his cause. On the plus side, there’s a fantastic mid-credit scene involving his character, and the nature of the scene fits him perfectly. Anyone interested in undertaking the mammoth task of film animation themselves will find it particularly entertaining.
As for the story, it takes far too long to get going, and when it does, it wasn’t worth waiting for. The narrative is not-so-coincidentally similar to the production company’s two other stop motion features: both Coraline and Paranorman see a human stuck in an otherworldly place who acts as the eventual peace bringer. The finale, much like the production design throughout, is too threatening for the very young, so once again it’s hard to gauge who the target audience is.
The worst thing about the Boxtrolls themselves is they have no real personality about them to distinguish them from one another. They have different designed boxes, and one plays with electricity, but they’re essentially the same creature multiplied over. They’re not cute either, so it’d be hard to market them as toys. So it begs the question: what’s the point of them, and ultimately this movie?
The Boxtrolls is an extremely unbalanced picture. The dark animation warrants a darker story, but in reality the plot that accompanies it is one seen too many times before. With the exception of Ben Kingsley’s villain, the characters are largely unlikeable and voice acting is forgettable. Fans of Tim Burton’s style will find a lot to love here, but for those looking for an entertaining kids movie will be hard pressed to find one.