Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Boxtroll Review

Having never read Here Be Monsters, the book this animated film was based on, I can make no comment on similarities to the original tale. So, this review will only be looking at the movie itself.
Growing up, I was a huge fan or Roald Dahl. But there is something about the grim, exaggerated nastiness of the villains paired with strange sometimes violent humor and plucky child protagonists that seems to be difficult to translate well into visual story telling. The Fantastic Mr. Fox, by Wes Anderson, managed to make that jump and The Boxtrolls follows suit. It takes this genre, and makes a movie that manages to capture the heart of these kind of strange tales.

Eggs is our primary protagonist, the adopted human child of a family of Boxtrolls that live under the city. The humans who live above believe the Boxtrolls are violent monsters. Meanwhile, the cunning Pest exterminator, Archibald Snatcher, creates a deal with the White Hat Society that if he kills all the Boxtrolls he will be allowed to join their illustrious club.

The characters are so much fun. Eggs is sweet, and funny, and utterly sympathetic in his adventure to try and save his dwindling family. Archibald is a fascinating villain, whose dream of eating cheese with the White Hats is a struggle in the impossible, made all the more hysterically absurd because of his deathly allergy to cheese. His henchman, Mr. Trout and Mr. Pickles, have deep (sometimes fourth wall breaking) discussion on the moral grays of their profession. Both insistently believe they are the heroes of the story.

The Boxtroll is funny, exciting and absolutely gorgeously animated. It is also the kind of world where the secondary protagonist’s father takes the money for a children’s hospital and uses it to buy cheese – and he is not a villain. He is simply one of many comedic morally ambiguous adult figures that populate these kinds of stories.  Children are our heroes and they live in uncertain worlds where adults cannot always be trusted, and there are harsh consequences to ones actions.  But, as someone who loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, despite the cruel consequences that were doled out to unreasonable children – I think kids gravitate to these kinds of stories. The Series of Unfortunate Event books are proof that a love of this genre lives on.

Navigating growing up is complicated, it is a common experience for children to feel unheard, or misunderstood by the adults in their live. While adults might look upon these kinds of stories as too grim, they carry a humor children love. They speak to an understanding of the child experience, without writing down to them. There is no candy-coating. Terrible things happen…  but so do great things. And it is the smart, brave, children who will save the day.

The Boxtrolls is not the type of family animated film we are used to seeing, but it is absolutely a film for families, and one I cannot recommend highly enough.

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