There’s more than a touch of the macabre to Laika Studios’ latest stop-motion adventure, The Boxtrolls (2014). With a spellbinding voice cast featuring Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost, Jared Harris and Ben Kingsley, we find ourselves tumbling through a world where diminutive trolls dwell in the subterranean caverns beneath Cheesebridge, a small cobbled town where the haughty gentry obsesses over their first love – cheese. Like many good yarns, this story opens one stormy night where we find a baby boy stolen away to the home of the Boxtrolls. Here, the child is taken in, raised as one of their own (as ‘Eggs’) and dressed in their signature cardboard boxes, which they use as camouflage on their visits to the surface.
Sadly, the townsfolk don’t take kindly to the visits from the trolls, whom each night scavenge junk to make their whiz-bang gadgets. Enter Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley), a grotesque, pot-bellied figure who, seeking to climb the social ladders of the town, turns to the mayor of Cheesebridge, Lord Portley-Rind (Harris), and offers his services to rid him of every last Boxtroll. Chaos ensues and as the trolls’ numbers dwindle, Eggs decides to rally the remaining troops along with Portley-Rind’s precocious daughter, Winnie (Elle Fanning) – who incidentally has a very sick imagination – to take on the dastardly Snatcher and put an end to his wicked ways. There’s a lot to love about The Boxtrolls which, like Laika’s previous features Coraline and ParaNorman, possesses an incredibly considered and detailed aesthetic.
Tonally, Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi’s animation revels in gross-out humour, with careful thought given to both child and adult audiences. Snatcher’s henchman, voiced by Ayoade, Frost and Tracy Morgan, pontificate upon the nature of good and evil (believing themselves to be the good guys), accompanied by the pantomime silliness of the trolls who communicate via a bizarre blend of grunts and squeaks. The plot also gives pleasingly pointed nods to the ridiculousness of class systems. Snatcher, desperate to sit with the ‘White Hats’ – an elite club of cheese-scoffing snobs – is rightly mocked for his aspirations (he is, in fact, allergic to cheese). Meanwhile, the ostentatious gentleman of the town hardly get away scot-free, depicted as hard-hearted nincompoops of the highest order. It’s with Eggs and his trolls where the heart of this film lies, however, living their lives full of joy of tinkering away with their cogs and sockets. The Boxtrolls is great fun that, unlike some of its aloof characters, is never overly pompous in its ambitions, always looking to entertain first and foremost.