Welcome to Fistful of Features, a celebration of film preservation through physical media and the discussion of cinematic treasures to maintain their relevance in the cultural lexicon. Today we’ll be discussing the third feature film from acclaimed stop-motion animation studio LAIKA. The Boxtrolls is a loose adaptation of Alan Snow’s young fantasy novel “Here Be Monsters!” and is the directorial debut and odd pairing of Canadian cartoonist Graham Annable (A Goofy Movie) and visual effects veteran Anthony Stacchi (Back To The Future). One of four LAIKA features making its way to Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory.
One could barely argue the skill and craftsmanship displayed in all of LAIKA’s stop-motion work to date from a technical standpoint. On a visual level The Boxtrolls is inventive and lavish in its gothic steampunk setting and the monstrous characters that inhabit it. If only they had put as much effort into the emotional core of their story, this film could have left an imprint on the same scale as the early work from Pixar. Surrounded by the titular boxtrolls is a young protagonist named Egg (Isaac Hempstead Wright), who we learn actually had his life spared by a greedy opportunistic have-not named Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) who yearns to join the table of the elitist “white hats” and join them for cheese at their table despite his deathly allergic reactions to their coagulated delicacies. Snatcher devises a scheme to convince the town of Cheesebridge that the underground-dwelling boxtrolls intend to enslave and eat their children and that only himself, aided a loyal psychopath (Tracy Morgan) and two loyal bumbling bodyguards (Richard Ayoade and Nick Frost), can rid them of the boxtrolls once and for all.
The villainous arc of the story is actually where The Boxtrolls mostly shines and touches upon classism in much the same way as the literary work of Dickens as if channeled through the imagination of Neil Gaiman and Ronald Dahl. The highlight of the film is a musical number performed by Snatcher’s alter ego Madame Frou-Frou where the frivolous legend of the alleged child abduction dazzles the crowd with puppetry, song, and dance in true vaudevillian fashion. It’s when Egg comes to the surface to expose these falsehoods, the film truly loses steam as we’re introduced to Egg’s reluctant human ally Winnie (Elle Fanning) and where one would expect to find heartfelt chemistry and empathy for Egg’s plight, one is left with quintessential actions and forced character development. It’s not until the backstory of Egg’s father (Simon Pegg) and his victimization in Snatcher’s scheme that this film merits much emotional investment, but it’s mostly sidetracked until the film is forced to wrap everything up in fairytale tradition.
LAIKA came out the door as a studio to keep an eye on with their debut feature Coraline and doubled down with ParaNorman. If The Boxtrolls continued the inventive storytelling tradition that those earlier features possessed, LAIKA would most likely be discussed in the same way that Pixar was when their animation output was practically flawless. Instead The Boxtrolls, much like the lesser work of Pixar, isn’t amazing by any stretch of the imagination, but contains enough creative spark to see the potential in future endeavors from the creative team at LAIKA. Shout! Factory has included some new features in this limited edition release that explore the amazing practical work from the animators and puppeteers. I look forward to seeing the behind-the-scenes behind all of these LAIKA release because the process is absolutely fascinating.
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.