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BOXTROLLS (review)

Review by Sharon Knolle
Produced by Travis Knight, David Ichioka
Written by Irena Brignull, Adam Pava
Based on Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow
Directed by Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi
Starring Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning, 
Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Simon Pegg, 
Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan

From the creators of Coraline and ParaNorman comes the stop-motion family film The Boxtrolls, based on the book Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow. In this rather macabre fantasy, a town is terrorized by boxtrolls, creatures who steal everything that isn’t nailed down, even a baby!

Lead animator Travis Knight calls the film, “like Charles Dickens entwined with Roald Dahl and Monty Python” and it certainly mines some of the rude and dark humor of those classics.  Like Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride, it’s a tale of the haughty haves and the wretched have-nots, a balance upset by some unlikely underground dwellers.

Set in a fictitious British town where the residents are obsessed with cheese, it’s also reminiscent of Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Like that Oscar-winning Aardman feature, it features a wealth of British talent, but, unlike the cute Aardman clay folks, it’s not necessarily love at first sight with The Boxtrolls.  It’s hard to know who to root for: The ugly, light-fingered title creatures or the hideous men bent on exterminating them. But the ugly little guys start to grow on you, especially when you realize that they’re actually harmless.

Their supposed crimes are trumped up to fuel the campaign of the villainous Archibald Snatcher, who dreams of graduating from lower-class Red Hat into the elite ranks of the wealthy White Hats.

Reluctantly, the leading White Hat, Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) agrees to bestow the coveted headgear on Snatcher if he manages to kill every last boxtroll. Snatcher is voiced by Sir Ben Kingsley, but I spent the entire film certain it was Timothy Spall, since the character is a dead ringer for the actor who played Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter films.

Meanwhile, the famously abducted “Trabshaw Baby,” has grown up to be “Eggs,” taking his name from the box he wears, like the boxtroll pals who raised him, Fish and Shoe.

Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Bran Stark on Game of Thrones), has no clue he’s really human until the night he runs into Lord Portley-Rind’s headstrong daughter Winnie (Elle Fanning).

Winnie just happens to be morbidly obsessed with the boxtrolls and can’t resist solving the mystery of why a boy was with the supposedly bloodthirsty creatures. Eggs makes a likable hero, with Winnie as an oddly prickly partner, and there are some hilarious moments as he tries to grasp human society for the first time.

While the film has its share of life lessons and heartwarming moments, it’s also determinedly grotesque and certainly not for every taste.

As cheese enthusiast Lord Portley-Rind raves about the finest Brie at one point, it’s also “a little stinky.” Whether you’re in the market for some very smelly cheese is, of course, your call.

If you go, definitely stay for the credits sequence, as there’s a delightful homage to the animators themselves.

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