It’s no hidden secret that LAIKA has become a rising star in the feature animation world, with Coraline and ParaNorman breathing new life into stop-motion animation and reaping critical acclaim and numerous accolades in doing so. So it makes sense that The Boxtrolls, the studio’s third outing, would be heavily anticipated. And while we are only less than two weeks away from it’s theatrical release, early reviews have already been pouring in and suffice it to say, the verdict may surprise you.
The Not So Good
Judging from the reviews, The Boxtrolls may be the first film from LAIKA to invite a mixed reception, at least from the critics. The (early) consensus seems to be that The Boxtrolls is visually impressive and packs a well-assembled cast, but it’s not for everyone. It’s also worth noting that equal amounts of praise and criticism were focused specifically on the screenplay, animation, and character design.
Peter Debrunge of Variety doesn’t have many positive things to say about the movie, calling it “a baffling misappropriation of talent.” Very strong words indeed.
He continues by calling out its “inelegantly structured story” and “relentlessly unappealing script.” He does praise the animation and stop-motion design, calling Cheesebridge “stunning to behold, imagined to the minutest detail and photographed with the sort of dramatic lighting and dynamic camera movement rarely seen in stop-motion.” He picks back up by slamming the portrayal of the human characters as “ruthless American caricatures of ineffectual European dandies” while criticizing the design of the creatures as being “even less appealing.” He ultimately ends by stating: “If the idea here was to buy (Alan) Snow’s book for these rascals, then junk the rest, instead of recycling Pixar tricks (during Eggs early bonding montage) and the same preachy anti-prejudice lessons seen in “ParaNorman,” the LAIKA team really ought to have thought outside the box.”
Alonso Duralde of TheWrap goes even further, calling it “charmless and aimless” and “unappealing both visually and narratively.” He hits even harder by saying the following: “this misfire will, with any luck, eventually become a forgotten footnote among the output of a production company that has, up until now, shown real promise at making films that defy the usual tropes and storytelling mechanisms in contemporary family-friendly animation.” Pretty harsh.
He too criticizes the script, saying that it “feels like a messy and awkward amalgamation of ideas and plots from previous, better movies.” He doesn’t have much love for the Boxtrolls either, calling them “lacking in personality or individuality.” He ends by saying: “ Worst of all, “The Boxtrolls” operates in a realm of ugliness; the little beasties aren’t interesting to look at, the humans are grotesque, and the sets lean toward the grimly industrial, the mechanical hodgepodge, or the blandly storybook-village approach. Nothing to see here, even with your 3D glasses on.” Ouch.
Not all hope is lost, however. Eddie Harrison of UK’s The List calls it “smart, surprisingly dark animation”, praising it’s “Charles Dickens meets Tim Burton” style and it’s “stark sense of social division, the clear message about state power running amuck and spurious anti-terror alerts against the innocent boxtrolls.” He ends by saying that while LAIKA may have “overestimated” it’s audience, he heralds the film as “impressively nasty fare for gothic fantasists of all ages.”
Perhaps the most shining review of the film at this moment comes from Catherine Bray of HitFix, who gave it a website rating of ‘A’, saying “I can’t remember the last time I saw a family animation so visually rich, tightly scripted and charmingly performed which was also built on a sound and progressive message.”
She describes the boxtrolls as “rather sweet creatures, nothing like the sort of trolls you find lurking in “The Lord Of The Rings” or “Harry Potter” or indeed the internet.” She also lends praise to the film’s mostly-British voice cast and, in a stark contrast to the other critics, champions the character design for both the Boxtrolls and the humans, saying here: “The character design is superb too — characters confounding the traditional beauty norms of much animation are often heroes (the boxtrolls), while the beautifully turned out folk at a ball given by Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) are revealed as timorous and vapid.” She ends by calling it “marvelous” and even says to stick around for a gag that occurs during the credits.
Now Time for Audiences to Weigh In
While this may come as a surprise to people who were expecting the usual high praise for LAIKA, it does come as a reminder that LAIKA has always been a company that goes for projects that go against the usual tropes and expectations in feature animation, and The Boxtrolls appears to be no different. Still, we are only a few weeks away from its release, so only time will tell how well the general audience will respond to it.
The Boxtrolls hits theaters on September 26.
What are your thoughts? Are you looking forward to this film?