In Cheesebridge, a quaint, mythical village planted firmly atop a colossal, cone-shaped hill, the winding, cobblestone streets and the slightly out-of-alignment Victorian-era townhouses leave little doubt that the place is nothing more than a charming, simple residence for charming, run-of-the-mill people.

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Underneath the otherwise nondescript streets, however, dwells a population of fantastical creatures wearing boxes around their bodies. They are called The Boxtrolls, also the somewhat unimaginative title and subject of Portland-based animation studio Laika’s third feature film. Lift open the potholes of Cheesebridge and you’ll find that over the course of several years, these gray minions have tirelessly constructed a kingdom in their underground cavern, made entirely out of the rubbish and scraps collected above ground after the sun goes down. Between scouting for garbage and steadily doing home improvement on their kingdom, they have raised a young boy named Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), a human who has never known anyone but the boxtrolls and considers himself one of them, complete with his own form-fitting box. However, when Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), the town’s token evil figure, vows to rid Cheesebridge of all boxtrolls, Eggs must enlist himself and the help of his first human friend, Winnie Portley-Rind (Elle Fanning), who also happens to be the daughter of the town’s insensitive governor (Jared Harris), to save his family from extermination.



Like Coraline and ParaNorman, the first two of Laika’s offerings, The Boxtrolls draws upon stop-motion animation techniques to create timeless, aesthetically flavorful world that is a sharpened version of our own. Visual facility aside, the film also benefits from a strong, eclectic ensemble of voices, each unique in their own right, and each giving life to their respective characters in bold ways. This is, unfortunately, as far as the extraordinariness of the film extends. My main issue with this film entitled The Boxtrolls, was that ultimately, it was not a story about the boxtrolls—or rather, that instead of telling a story about the willpower of these un-human creatures, the film only communicates that these boxtrolls, who we are all rooting for from the beginning, are submissive, powerless, incomprehensible lumps of space forever at the mercy of Eggs and his human counterparts.

The boxtrolls are not the only ones who fall victim to this lack of three-dimensionality; many of the humans, too, are flat, monotonous archetypes. Snatcher’s villainous intentions are never fully fleshed out other than a desire to don a white hat and eat fancy cheese, an item of great value and infatuation, and a symbol of status in this fictitious town. It was almost as if the film was judging the characters within itself, even though this is supposed to be our job as viewers. We were all waiting for a change of heart, a change in character, a change of inflection, something—but by the time the film concluded, almost no character development had occurred, and Fish (Egg’s boxtroll father figure) had yet to convey anything meaningful, confined in his un-translated gibberish. We get it; they’re boxtrolls. They don’t speak the way we do, and their non-human language should come off as gibberish.

However, the mere decision to prevent us access from their thoughts and intuition is one I wish had been reversed, for it means that they never receive the humanity they deserve onscreen. That their intellect be only be conveyed via expressions and gestures rather than words prevents the story from going that extra mile and becoming the animated toast of the season, especially considering that for the most part, Irena Brignull and Adam Pava’s text is tight, simple, and communicative. Despite all this, I believe that there’s plenty in The Boxtrolls to keep our engagement, and its overarching faults can be largely compensated for with its pleasing visual appeal and a great cast. While not life-changing, The Boxtrolls stands as a fantastic, feel-good family event with some nice messages, presented in a unique visual feast rarely seen on the big screen.

The film is now playing.