“The Boxtrolls” takes simple story to great heights

Briana Zamora

Loosely based on a beloved 2005 children’s picture book by Alan Snow, “The Boxtrolls” proves a quirky and delightful spectacle sure to entertain kids and parents alike. The stop-motion animation and thoughtful plot demonstrate a loving attention to intense detail, which contributes to a striking and engaging vibrancy. Never shying away from the ludicrousness of its premise, the film approaches serious and socially profound themes concerning self-expression, social mobility and the legitimacy of class. 

The film’s titular characters are a shy species of reclusive underlings as afraid of humans as the humans are of them. Hopelessly timid, they pop in and out of the boxes they wear, shying away from bright lights, loud sounds and new acquaintances. Driven by curiosity and a fascination with anything mechanical, the nocturnal creatures scourge the town streets stealing every unsecured item they happen upon. 

One night, the boxtrolls take an endangered, parent-less infant boy with them underground to raise him as their own. Villain Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), a lower-class cad and social climber, uses this as an opportunity to portray the boxtrolls as vicious kidnappers with an insatiable craving for human flesh. He then pledges to exterminate the under-dwellers in exchange for a place among the white, hat-wearing aristocracy. 

The boy (Isaac Hempstead Wright), Eggs, lovingly christened after the carton he was found in, grows up believing he is a boxtroll and lives harmoniously with his adoptive family. But, after many of his fellow cave dwellers fall victim to Snatcher’s genocidal campaign, Eggs is forced to venture aboveground. With the help of Winnie (Elle Fanning), a bratty girl with a morbid interest in boxtrolls, Eggs seeks to vanquish Snatcher, save his remaining family, and come to terms with his identity. 

The steampunk world of Cheesebridge and its inhabitants are almost as fascinating as the plot itself. White hat-wearing dignitaries engage in lively cheese tastings and banquets, while dim-witted citizens worship Snatcher’s cross-dressing alter ego, Madame Frou Frou, who spews propagandist siren songs laced with anti-boxtroll sentiments. Snatcher’s philosophizing cronies, Mr. Pickles (Richard Ayoade) and Mr. Trout (Nick Frost) humorously debate their role in the war between good and evil all while persecuting harmless trolls. 

The film imparts important lessons. Obsession with class ambition and improving social status can make you lose sight of what is really important: family. The film also empowers children to be their own hero. Parents will let you down sometimes and inevitably you will have to take initiative. Winnie’s father is more concerned with his white hat and his Brie than with the wrongfully persecuted boxtrolls, compelling Winnie to become a de facto leader in the fight to uproot the town’s beliefs and end Snatcher’s smear campaign. 

“The Boxtrolls” is a sophisticated film, channeling dystopian elements, Dickensian humor and whimsical madness. The plot is straightforward and the boxtrolls themselves are plain and underdeveloped, but the inventive setting, witty dialogue and entertaining adventure unfolding around them make the film a worthwhile experience.