Whenever a new LAIKA film is announced, animation fans eagerly await its release. Despite being a newer studio, LAIKA has established itself as the purveyors of interesting and unique animated films that challenge animation’s status quo. It’s newest film The Boxtrolls is no exception: it’s gorgeously animated, engaging and an all-around great time.
The Boxtrolls tells the story of a society of creatures who live underneath the city Cheesebridge. They are called Boxtrolls because they, simply, are trolls that wear boxes. They lurk in the shadows and come to the surface at night to ransack garbage bins, looking for gadgets and gizmos to take back to their home. One day, the Boxtrolls steal a young boy and proceed to raise him as their own. As a result of this treacherous deed, the city’s leaders, known as White Hats because of the large pompous hats with with they ornate themselves, call upon a man named Snatcher to exterminate them. Snatcher covets the White Hat and agrees to exterminate every last Boxtroll in the city, in exchange for a prestigious hat. Getting rid of the Boxtrolls takes a few years though and we see the little boy, now named Eggs, grow up. But as his Boxtroll family disappears one by one, he realizes that it’s up to him to head up to the human world to save them himself.
The characters, especially the grunting Boxtrolls, are surprisingly enjoyable. Despite not being able to talk, the Boxtrolls each have distinct personalities and character arcs. One way LAIKA was able to do this was to differentiate them not only by size and stature, but also my the boxes they wear. One wears a box with a picture of a fish, so his name is Fish. Another wears a box of an oil can, so his name is O Can. In a movie filled with a variety of characters, this simple way to distinguish and remember them. Also, I’m still not quite sure what gender they were; they were androgynously designed, but seemed male (I never saw a female-looking Boxtroll once).
My favorite character, by far, was Winnie, the daughter of a cheese-loving, white-hat wearing magistrate. She’s sassy, inquisitive and slightly overbearing, yet neglected by her father. Her design, with her curly pigtails and freckles, is quite appealing and classic. She is delightfully voiced by Elle Fanning, whose voice feels familiar. Elle’s sister, Dakota, actually voiced Coraline in another LAIKA film and I guess the similarities in their voices were evident in The Boxtrolls. I’m not suggesting that LAIKA uses the girls in all their films like Pixar does with John Ratzenberger, but hearing Elle voice a LAIKA lead was a welcome, comforting surprise.
The films explores the symbols that define us in society and as a person, whether our hierarchy, class, or status. One prominent symbol is the tangible boxes that the Boxtrolls wear, which are the epitome of what makes them a Boxtroll. Without a box, what are they? So when Eggs decide to remove his box for a while and explore life as a human, the Boxtrolls don’t know how to cope. Another prominent symbol is the illustrious white hat that the magistrates wear, heralding to the Cheesebridge denizens that the white hat wearers are the rulers (and also that they get to enjoy the town’s finest cheese). These themes are visceral, clear and straightforward, allowing them to be understood and absorbed on all levels and age groups.
As Eggs ventures into the human world, it reminded me of other fish-out-of-water situations such as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Also, being raised by creatures other than his own reminded me of Mowgli from The Jungle Book and Tarzan from the movie of the same name. He is introduced to a new culture and customs, ultimately facing the tough decision of figuring out to which group he belongs. Who is his real family?
I was suprised about how much I like The Boxtrolls. I wasn’t as drawn to the film’s promotion like Coraline or ParaNorman; however, yet again LAIKA blew me away. The stop-motion animation is intricate, the character design is grungy yet appealing, and the plot is tight and expertly executed. If you had any concerns or doubts about this film, throw them aside. The Boxtrolls is yet another LAIKA masterpiece.