For the last 15 years, LAIKA Studios has amused, entertained, amazed, and, in some cases, downright terrified audiences with their stop-motion animation tales that continually place children at the center, offering a chance for audiences old and young to see the world in a new way. In celebration of their 15 years, LAIKA has partnered with Shout! Factory to release special editions of four of their five releases: Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012), The Boxtrolls (2014), and Kubo and the Two Strings (2016). Each release, dubbed LAIKA Studios Edition, includes a remastered version of the film, bonus materials new and old, as well as a written foreword by a notable author exploring the respective film. Additionally, to add to the fun, both Coraline and ParaNorman are returning to theaters via Fathom Events on August 24th and November 16th, respectively, so that audiences can reenter each story or experience it for the first time in the theater. Rather than releasing them all at once, Shout! Factory is offering Coraline and The Boxtrolls first on August 31st, with ParaNorman and Kubo coming available on September 14th. In this second of four home release reviews, let’s dive into the world of co-directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi’s (Boog & Elliot’s Midnight Bun Run) adaptation of Alan Snow’s novel Here Be Monsters! in the third LAIKA release The Boxtrolls.
In the town of Cheesebridge there resides the governing class (known as White Hats) lead by Lord Portley-Rind (voiced by Jared Harris), the average citizenry, and those who clean up the messes no one else wants to, led by red hat-wearing Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley). One stormy night, Snatcher comes to Lord Portley-Rind in a panic because a child has been stolen by the subterranean creatures called Boxtrolls (for the boxes they wear on their bodies) and extends an offer to get rid of the Boxtrolls if Portley-Rind will allow Snatcher a white hat, along with a seat at the Lord’s Table. Years later, just as Snatcher is about to remove the Boxtrolls once and for all, a truth comes to light that will change all of Cheesebridge forever.
Of the LAIKA films, Boxtrolls is the only one that had, until now, gone unseen. 2014 was a time of transition and the film released September 21st, just as my then-students were submitting a major assignment. The true shame of things is that seeing this film so soon after the release of Disney/Pixar’s Luca, it’s difficult not to see a shade of similarity. Both films focus on a protagonist moving from one perspective of life to another, both feature protagonists overcoming fear to become confident in who they are, and both feature narratives which explore themes of identity, truth, and community. Thankfully, it’s not just the medium which is different (computer versus stop-motion animation), but the approach to the story which ultimately separates them, enabling the similarities to co-exist without truly overshadowing or clouding one’s view. Boxtrolls is a truly sweet film and, like other LAIKA stories, is not meant for the youngest, but for an older child-like audience who can handle the complex notions baked within the narrative. Especially as today’s world makes it plain that the means of access to information is different based on location, class, and ideology, understanding that just because something is presented as fact or is a tradition doesn’t make it either true or something worth celebrating. It’s a small detail amid a whole host of larger ideas, but I loved that Snatcher has the entire town convinced that he’s Madame Frou Frou and he and his crew delight audiences with his annual show. It goes to show the gullibility of people when a populace is too terrified to think past their fear/self-interest, while also highlighting that Snatcher could easily have gotten the respectability he so desperately desired by merely being a showperson. His deception as Frou Frou also highlights Snatcher’s willingness to do whatever it takes to earn that respectability, even if it means killing himself due to his horrific cheese allergy (a particularly poetic problem for someone who wants to reign in Cheesebridge to suffer from). All of this talk of Snatcher and one might think that he’s the focus. He’s not, but the character is so well-defined within the narrative, hilariously brought to life by Kingsley, and beautifully constructed by the animators that one can’t really explore Boxtrolls without considering the nasty yet melancholic character.
Boxtrolls is, ultimately, a story about family, which, in children’s tales, usually means exploring those that we’re tied to by blood and those we choose. Here the adapted screenplay by Irena Brignull (The Little Prince) and Adam Pava (Clone High) truly shines as we follow the child believed to have been carried off by the Boxtrolls, known as Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright), as he grows up under the supervision and loving care of the Boxtrolls. Maybe it’s because I had my own nine-month-old struggling to sleep on my chest, flipping and flopping, sighing heavily with each adjustment, as I watched the film, but the manner in which LAIKA presents the bond of dotting parent to sweet child, as well as how the animators present the shift in relationship as Eggs grows up and learns the truth of who he is, highlights just how effective LAIKA is at crafting the small details which carry the most weight, effectively inviting the audience to consider their own relationships and the connections they’ve created. I’m not ashamed to admit that the conversation between Portley-Rind’s daughter Winnie (voiced by Elle Fanning) and Eggs about what a father is made me particularly weepy given the complex nature of my own upbringing and the ways in which I want to change things for my two children. This is, to me, the power of storytelling, especially from a studio like LAIKA, and how it can make a tale of fictional creatures accessible and applicable to any audience.
If you’re checking out this review/recommendation, chances are you’re already familiar with The Boxtrolls and just want to know the details on the home release. That’s fair, so let’s get on to that.
As mentioned previously, this release includes the other previously released bonus features, as well as additional four new special features in the form of three featurettes and a foreword from Ramin Zahed, the Editor in Chief of Animation Magazine. Similar to the Coraline release, the main featurette is nine-minute featurette called “Discovering the Characters Of The Boxtrolls Featuring Never-Before-Seen Test Footage,” which invites viewers into a deeper dive of the process of making the film, as well as the ideas behind it. As endearing as the Boxtrolls themselves are, quite a bit of my own appreciation for Snatcher himself comes from hearing the animators, artists, and other members of LAIKA discuss Snatcher and his cohorts. If learning more about the characters and how the puppets functioned is of interest, there are six mini-featurettes under the featurette titled “Revisiting the Puppets with LAIKA’s Animation Team.” My favorite aspect of these brief featurettes is how they allow home viewers a closer look at the technical and artistic aspects of the film that we might not otherwise be privy to. For instance, in the one focused on Winnie, it would not occur to me that for every movement adjustment, the animators needed to account for how air movement might impact her hair or clothes and make those adjustments along with her physical movement, even if she’s standing still. LAIKA excels at little details like this and it is what makes their films transcend the medium to feel lifelike.
It’s worth noting two things about this release versus Coraline based solely on conflicting information between the releases and their accompanying press materials. Both Coraline and The Boxtrolls include a version of the film that’s entirely storyboards. It’s listed as a new special feature here, but not on Coraline, so the presumption is that it’s available on prior releases. With no other version of The Boxtrolls to compare against, I can’t say for certain if this is new or not, but it is listed as such here. The reverse is true of character, concept, and still art galleries, as they appear to be part of the original special features of The Boxtrolls but brand-new for Coraline. This could be an issue of the final contents for the releases not being updated on the press materials, but it’s worth noting should you already have a copy of either film and the included features being a deciding factor.
If you’d like a look at the release before purchasing, here’s a quick walkthrough of what to expect:
The Boxtrolls is a film that I look forward to showing to my eldest in a few years. Right now I think he’d delight in the activities of the Boxtrolls, but would find the actions of Snatcher and his crew to be terrifying. He’d be right to be terrified, but, because of that, would be unable to understand the themes within Snow’s story. Just like Disney’s adaptation of Aladdin is about knowing yourself, The Lion King is about not running away from your past, there’s a valuable lesson to be gleaned from Boxtrolls. A healthy skepticism, if you will, about the stories we hear and what we accept from them. If all of that, plus the included materials, sounds like your cup of tea, then you’ll likely be delighted with adding this to your collection. That each one of the LAIKA Studio Editions appear to be visually unique yet part of a whole does add to the charm in possessing the collection, but does not make necessitate replacing a previous copy.
The Boxtrolls LAIKA Studios Edition Special Features:
- NEW “Inside LAIKA” – Discovering The Characters Of The Boxtrolls Featuring Never-Before-Seen Test Footage (9:34)
- NEW “Inside LAIKA” – Revisiting The Puppets With LAIKA’s Animation Team
- Mr. Pickles and Mr. Trout (1:38)
- Lord Portley-Rind (1:14)
- Archibald Snatcher (1:52)
- Winnie (1:21)
- Fish and Shoe (1:59)
- Eggs (1:23)
- NEW Feature-Length Storyboards (1:36:07)
- NEW Foreward by Ramin Zahed, the Editor in Chief of Animation Magazine (essay inside liner notes)
Previous Bonus Features
- Audio Commentary With Directors Graham Annable And Anthony Stacchi
- The Making Of The Boxtrolls
- Original Featurettes including Character Art and Concept Art Photo Gallery
- Deleted Scenes
For more information on the film, head to LAIKA Studios’s official The Boxtrolls website.
Available on Blu-ray/DVD Combo from Shout! Studios August 31st, 2021.