From the perspective of 20/20 hindsight, it is difficult to imagine a time animated movies were the second-class citizens of cinematic arts. No matter how groundbreaking the techniques used for creating wonderful world of imagination, most people still relegated them as cartoons, targeted only to children and lumped in the same category as the animated shorts that were a staple of our Sunday mornings. Even after Walt Disney premiered the first feature-length animated movie, ‘Snow White’ in 1939, it took over 70 years before animation were considered legitimate form of storytelling for a filmmaker and recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as deserving their own category to recognize excellence in their field. Actually, over the last decade or so many of the best pictures of the year were animated. Although Disney/Pixar still retain ownership of the top tier of animation with DreamWorks, following closely behind, when the type of movie can produce revenues approaching $1 billion. It is inevitable that of the studios to obtain their share of the lucrative revenue stream. Universal Studios, maybe one of the oldest Hollywood giants so was literally only a matter of time before they would commit fully to this type of filmmaking. The particular film under consideration here is ‘Boxtrolls’, which not only embraced several techniques used in animation, but it also incorporated the new ‘Real 3-D’. Directors of traditional live-action movies are only now beginning to understand how to infuse the story they are telling to properly embrace the illusion of depth. In the vanguard of this arduous, but necessary learning curve, resides in animated film. Almost since the beginning each of the million individual frames was hand-drawn; there was a concerted effort to craft characters and locations with a real look and feel to them. Conceptually, this gave the animated significant head start with a time when 3-D became a realistic option for both theatrical and home presentation.
Your audience is brought to the small community of Cheesebridge, in the year 1805. As is the case with most isolated communities, there are folktales and legends that have been handed down through the generations. For the citizens of Cheesebridge, the most prevalent story concerns a race of trolls that live in cabins deep beneath the landscape called Boxtrolls. In stories like this, the usual motivation behind passing them down to children is to frighten them. The Boxtrolls have been burdened with a very negative image; Boxtrolls have the predilection for kidnapping children, spiriting them off to the lair to kill them. Details are taken so seriously that they are now considered factual and considered by the Lord Mayor, Lord Portley-Rind (voiced by Jared Harris), to be the most important concern of local government. The overwhelming concern of his constituency leaves the Lord Mayor highly receptive to a deal often by a local pest exterminator, Archibald Snatche (voiced by Sir Ben Kingsley). The deal is simple and suitably shady, in return for exterminating every Boxtroll, Snatche is to be granted membership in the elite group called ‘The White Hats’, a group dedicated to the major export of the town, cheese. Membership for Snatche was always impossible considering he was lactose intolerant in the slightest morsel will cause him to blow up accessibly.
Of course, in order to reinforce the requisite didactic nature of such stories, there is a considerable discrepancy between reputation and reality for the subterranean creatures. Boxtrolls off far from the murderers of childlike innocence, they are peaceful creatures that venture out at night to rummage through items discarded by the people in order to find anything that they could use in their main passion, creating novel inventions. They get their name from their tradition of using small boxes and cartons fashioned into clothing. The plot point that drives the story revolves around a young human boy, Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright), was been living among the Boxtrolls his entire life. During this 10 year period Eggs was cared for by a Boxtroll named Fish (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker). Eggs become exceptionally concerned when a number of Boxtrolls begin to disappear under very suspicious circumstances. Unbeknownst to him and the other Boxtrolls this is the work of Archibald Snatche.
This brings us to the inevitable moment when Eggs is finally confronted by his own kind, a young girl from town, Winnie (voiced by Elle Fanning), who just happens to be the Lord Mayor’s daughter. Like many children of powerful men, Winnie was neglected by her father favor of furthering his political ambitions. This may be a small town, but there are always those who want to be the biggest fish in a little pond. One day, Winnie catches a glimpse of Eggs during one of his routine examination of the town’s refuse. After a nicely constructed set up laying down the fundamental parameters of the world in the background and social standing of the main characters, we finally ready to go headlong into the main story.
As it turns out, Eggs was actually the ‘Trubshaw Baby’, believed to have been kidnapped and killed by the Boxtrolls shortly after his birth. Snatcher, upon discovering this, he plans to use this information to his best advantage. Eggs have been working on a machine that can make expanding their cavern much easier. Unfortunately, Snatcher gains control of the machine and uses it to borrow directly in to the subterranean home of the much-maligned Boxtrolls. The film is quite nicely infused with little touches of whimsy that managed to retain an internal consistency within the established contacts. The town is hoping to purchase a huge wheel of cheese aptly named the Briehemoth, complete with an elaborate ball to celebrate its acquisition. It was a machine whose sole purpose is to crush boxes, obviously not something conducive to the existence of Boxtrolls, which provides an ideal sort of Damocles ready to dispense death and mayhem to the gentle subterranean folk. This does provide some moments that might be considered intense for younger viewers, but perfectly within the acceptable guidelines for this category of story.
Obviously, the numerous storylines are targeted towards the grade school set, but the execution and delivery is what makes it exceptionally entertaining for all ages. It was the mandatory moral lesson that is woven throughout the story; prejudices based on ignorance and easily passed down from parents to their children. Although on the surface this may seem to be just another tale of the disenfranchised group that just want the right to live and enjoy life on their own, the didactic message never rises to the point of overwhelming the fun. The film is quite enjoyable. From the first frame to the last, which is more than can be said for number of live-action movies. There is adventure, age-appropriate danger, action and the slightest hint of romance between Eggs and Winnie. As mentioned above, animated movies are, at this point, more conducive to the proper utilization of 3-D techniques. For me personally, the criteria I use to judge the efficacy of 3-D techniques, is how quickly I can forget that I am watching it 3-D flick just accept the proceedings as being pulled into a realistically fashioned world. There are a few contrivance uses of 3-D employing the hackneyed shoving objects directly out of the plane of the film into the face of the audience. Wisely, these are exceptionally rare. The best thing I can say about how this technique is used is the 3-D is just there, an integral part of the film augmenting telling the story, but not responsible for driving it. The unique look and feel presented by this film is achieved by mixing the animation techniques incorporating stop action photography with CGI. It is also a case where such a hybridization seem strange on paper, but works exceptionally well in the finished product.
Dare to Be Square: Behind the Scenes of "The Boxtrolls"