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If anything, I would describe this piece of the fantastic Laika Entertainment's work as "Roald Dahl, but with more unpleasantness than whimsy". It has all the hallmarks of a Dahl book (more than the source material). There's a vile adult villain and a stupid parent, unusual and twisted surreal elements, and an innocent child hero and loving parent. But I feel the film is more uncomfortable and nasty in places without any proper enchantment to balance it out. The trolls themselves are sort of cute and their lair is mildly interesting, but there isn't any real magic in the story to lift up the viewer in wonder. Instead, we get genuinely distressing scenes involving a horrific allergy, and some failure in even the kindest adult figures in the film, which makes for a slightly off-putting experience.
The animation is good, but mostly impressive in subtleties than grand showstoppers like Coraline, ParaNorman, or later, Kubo. I do love that no two Laika films have the same art style, and this one is rich and detailed, allowing for elegance and darkness with grotesque elements.
The sidekick and villain are also interesting. Winnie becomes the friend of Eggs, the boxtroll-adopted hero, and she is a nice strong character with quirks and struggles. Archibald Snatcher, despite the typical Dahl-esque villain trappings, is somewhat pathetic and sad in his own right, which I like.
But the story doesn't feel too inspiring and I think there is less to be enchanted by in comparison to the weird stuff. It'll probably have its audience, but Laika has done much better with all of its other films.
Laika, the company behind Boxtrolls, is a breath of fresh air when it comes to films aimed at children. In a world where drivel like Postman Pat: The Movie get green-lit it's nice to see there are some studios trying to make kids' films with more bite.
Coming off ParaNorman, Boxtrolls has it's eyes set on a slightly younger audience, with less zomebie/horror and more Roald Dahl-esq grisliness. Even as a twenty-something adult I can appreciate the film for what it is, like ParaNorman and Coraline, it doesn't talk down to it's child audience and revels in the grotesque. The film centres on Eggs, a boy seemingly kidnapped by the eponymous Boxtrolls, a race of underground dwelling goblins, all of whom are under threat of extinction by the town's new exterminators led by Mr Snatcher, a character who feels like Timothy Spall just crawled out of a Roald Dahl story.
The film's positives are it's grubby Victorian-style setting, it's unashamed grossness, very good voice cast, and genuinely fun characters; mostly in the form of Mr Snatcher and his henchmen and Eggs' friend Winnie.
The only negatives I can give come in the form of the heavy-handed moral message of "You've got to believe in yourselves!!!" and Eggs himself, who comes across as the least interesting character, rather he is simply boring old 'generic boy'. He has one or two funny moments, but is mostly the one wailing at his Boxtrolls to "Stop hiding and stand up for yourselves!!" The film also has quite a slow build-up in the first part; we see Eggs growing up with his Troll brethren, and yeah as cute as you may find a giggling animated baby it may not appease a fidgety child who was promised 90 minutes of slapstick Boxtroll shenanigans. Bear with it, the film gets much better once Eggs and Winnie meet and whenever Mr Snatcher is on screen.
The film is definitely a watch, especially if you're looking for a kids' film which has an actual story. Comparing it to Laika's past films I still prefer ParaNorman overall, with Boxtrolls at a close second and Coraline coming in last.
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