The Boxtrolls - Blu-ray Review

'The setting of Cheesebridge is a bundle of anachronisms, the aesthetics of Georgian England placed whimsically at odds with steampunk-style mechanics and 20th century corrugated packaging'.

It's undeniable that stop-motion continues to hold an idiosyncratic appeal that computer-animated fare cannot replicate. A fact that's no different in The Boxtrolls, animation studio Laika's latest Oscar-nominated feature, with both the environment and the characters of the film exuding an appealing charm throughout. The setting of Cheesebridge is a bundle of anachronisms, the aesthetics of Georgian England placed whimsically at odds with steampunk-style mechanics and 20th Century corrugated packaging for the eponymous creatures to dress themselves in. The film's world provides a continuously contradictory folktale backdrop that works a treat.

The characters too retain this quirky spirit. The Boxtrolls themselves are immediately endearing without being cute, gruesome without ever resorting to gross-out extremes. Fish (Dee Bradley Baker) and Shoe (Steve Blum) are the only two Boxtrolls fleshed out into proper characters, but within the pair there is enough heart and humour to communicate the nature and personality of the entire clan, especially within the simple affection seen in the adoptive father-son relationship between Fish and human boy Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright).

Whilst Eggs and Winnie (Elle Fanning) are perfectly satisfying protagonists, the real interest in the human side of the cast is in the villains, a pleasing amalgam of Dahl crossed with Dickens. Ben Kingsley has immense fun from start to finish as Archibald Snatcher, the veteran actor creating a memorable and repulsive primary antagonist somewhere between the Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Uriah Heep. His henchmen, Messrs Trout (Nick Frost), Pickles (Richard Ayoade) and Gristle (Tracy Morgan), whilst never quite as effective as Snatcher himself, are entertaining nonetheless, particularly when Trout and Pickles offer various postmodernist comments and chitchat about the nature of good and evil.

What lets The Boxtrolls down, however, is its storyline. The narrative throws very few curveballs at the audience during its one hundred minutes, and those that it does can be easily spotted some time before they are eventually revealed. Whilst the morals here about misjudgement based on appearance and being cautious of those in power are valid enough, they feel notably derivative and rarely offer anything new.

The issues within the story might not be so noticeable if there were more visual humour and wordplay to distract from them. But, although these forms of comedy are highlights when The Boxtrolls offers them, their inclusion is simply too scarce, especially when compared to the rapid gag count of feature film offerings from fellow stop-motion studio Aardman. The Boxtrolls therefore ends up as a good fun film full of charm and personality, but lacking the narrative strength and invention to ever make it a great one.

The Boxtrolls is released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 26th January 2015.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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