Admittedly, trying to extract logic from animated kid flicks is fairly futile. With so many of them based on fairy tales or other fantastical stuff, you can’t think too much when, for example, a woman has the power to wave her hands and freeze everything or when a kid can not only find a dragon but learn to pilot it, too. And, hey, I get that.
So why did so much of The Boxtrolls bug me?
The latest feature from Laika, the animation house behind the great films Coraline and ParaNorman, is The Boxtrolls– the story of a young boy in the Dickensian town of Cheesebridge. After being taken in as an infant by trolls who live in cardboard boxes, he is reared as one of their own, until he hits middle school age. At that point, the local snarly bad guy Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kinglsey) starts rounding up all the trolls ostensibly as a service to the townsfolk, but it’s really so he can be rewarded with membership into the White Hat society—the group of posh elitists who runs things and eat cheese all day.
Based on the kids’ novel Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow, it’s a fairly innocuous tale, about as deep as a petri dish and, alas, just as entertaining.
For the first half hour or so (and, yes, I checked my watch early and often), there’s not an ounce of narrative. It’s almost as if novice feature film screenwriters Irena Brignull and Adam Pava were just expecting the creative, whack-a-doodle stop-motion animation to suffice. And while it is darn near a marvel to experience, sorry… there needs to be a story, too, folks.
Eventually a plot does start to materialize (see above), but by that point you’ve already spent a lot of time wondering how a young boy learned to speak English and, oh, I don’t know, behave like a human while living underground with grunting trolls his whole life. And, why, if he mastered both of those things, does his diet consists solely of ladybugs and caterpillars? And why is an entire town absolutely petrified by these creatures, when their worst crime by all accounts is sniffing through people’s rubbish bins for springs, gears, and other harmless trinkets? (Yes, they were blamed for “kidnapping” the young boy, but it wouldn’t have been difficult at all to figure out the real culprit—hint: he has “Snatch” right there in his name.
There’s no denying that Laika is absurdly talented when it comes to animation. And it gives me no shortage of pleasure to know that stop-motion is still alive and (done really) well in these computer-driven times. But somewhere along the line, they made the mistake of thinking that was enough.
Coming out of the theater I heard a lot of people say The Boxtrolls was “kinda cute” and “neat”, and, yep—that pretty much sums it up. If every aspect of the film was as captivating as the visuals, though, Laika would have a third straight superb film on its resumé, and the audience could have tossed around words like “amazing” and “game-changing”. It’s only logical.