Troll hard

Between the stinky, the gross, the wretched, and the evil sits the adorable Boxtrolls, an anti-Pinocchio set in a snooty British-ish town obsessed with the extravagance of cheese. Underneath them in a mechanical sewer are the Boxtrolls, timid, tame, and thieving. They love garbage.

Boxtrolls teaches plenty in this scenario. Income gaps, the endlessly imbecility of politicians, the superficiality of wealth, the complexities of being a good person; it’s a loaded gun of entertainment metaphors and so unusually modest with color as to set an unusually glum tone for a feature destined to be kiddie fare.

It treats vanity with spite and the rank with joy. Bugs and boogers are a delicacy. Elegant cheese is nostril harming and prone to causing allergies. Boxtrolls is much its own world where kids shout, “Eww!” and parents wonder what happened to their gentle movie delights – probably without realizing a prior generation grew up on the bliss of people being slimed on national TV.

So that’s where we are: Worms and flies, sewers and stench, with a dash of mold. The Boxtrolls are friendly critters you see, but they love that rotten stuff. They hide in boxes and name themselves after the products screened onto the front of their comfy cardboard clothes, names like Fish and Shoe. In their company too is a child, who to the outside world is dead.

The kid was ripped apart and mauled by the sniveling maws of the sewer troll beasts, or so they say. Or rather, they’re told. This town, known as Cheesebridge, even holds a celebration to honor the supposedly lost child as a warning of the Boxtroll threat. Add in a propaganda metaphor too.

It’s so often meticulously detailed and ridiculously complex as to challenge what we once knew of the animation form.

Where Boxtrolls is headed is inevitable. Boxtrolls will wish for their freedom and this boy will become a hero, but it becomes more complex and rich than something so droll on its surface. Boxtrolls’ villain, blatantly named Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), brings with him three thugs to every night of Boxtroll snatching. Two of them are uneasily conflicted about their current status as bad guys, adding depth to an otherwise pale fairy tale with simple battle lines.

All is told via production studio Laika and their exquisite stop motion artistry, building a miniaturized world of unbelievable craftsmanship by hand. It’s so often meticulously detailed and ridiculously complex as to challenge what we once knew of the animation form. Their solutions are genius, their form is flawless, and their style is unmatched.

Certainly, the challenges of stop motion can supersede story – it’s all too easy to fall under the trance of such beauty in motion. But not for Boxtrolls which carries exuberant personality as it gives life to indifferent citizens and playfully enjoyable critters. Often, there are no words. Unknowingly adopted Boxtroll human Eggs (Isaax Hempstead Wright) is introduced without dialog, merely some indecipherable mumbling known as “Trollese.” They party, they laugh. And, they enjoy their existence for what (and who) they are. In between everything else, that is Boxtrolls kindest message. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]

Trolls at home @ 48:46

Laika has never made a poor looking film. Their output includes Coraline and 2012’s gem ParaNorman (still their best), although Boxtrolls is different. This is a bleaker picture. While their previous work often exploded in tremendous color, short of an orange-ish heavy third act finale, much of Boxtrolls is muted. Hues are weakened into a dusty pattern without the intention of depth. Black levels are sprayed with a bit of London fog.

And of course, that is okay. In terms of tonalities, the look is where it should be despite lacking the powerhouse “pop” now expected of animation. Instead, Boxtrolls earns itself praise for resolution. Mini clothes, dirty floors, hair; they’re flawless. Digital photography (literally – they use high-end Canon still cameras, not video) captures the nuance of each puppet. Background details, especially town buildings which recall the exaggerated forms of German expressionism (lightly anyway), stretch vertically. Each brick or weed is fully visible.

Universal’s encoding work is doubly astonishing. By the end, as Snatcher begins kicking up dust in a rage, there are zero encode problems to be concerned with. Banding is avoided with exceptional bitrates. Any fine lines maintain their integrity without aliasing. What Boxtrolls may lose in contrast or depth it easily recovers in textural clarity and weight.

The possibility of 3D to add the missing depth is thus unfortunate. While hardly a total loss, the focus here is clearly not consistent space. There is no sense of being on a miniature set or looking into a diorama. Background room simply is not provided.

To make it noticeable, Boxtrolls relies on gimmickry, tossing things into the screen and other such simple moves. Sliding down into the Boxtrolls home on a winding makeshift slide is the height of 3D effects in this one. Looking down streets of Cheesebridge can’t compare. This is not a failed composition so much as a disinterested one. [xrr rating=5/5 label=2D-Video] [xrr rating=3/5 label=3D-Video]

Soundstage work spreads wide in Boxtrolls, letting dialog peek out from the center and vibrantly into the stereos. The effect is frequently employed. Cheesebridge is lively when crowded, especially during their yearly celebration. Streets become sonically busy and an audience reaches each channel with their reactions. Likewise, the underground sewers and workshops are busy.

The only restraint is usually plain LFE, rarely reaching a peak until the final uses a massive machine. Each stomp of the tri-pod smashes the concrete and creates that needed rumble missing from the first two acts. Most of the disc’s low-end support survives on music. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]

Dare to be Square splits into five features, creating a somewhat singular making-of. Much of it proves fascinating for 33 total minutes, outside of the bit on voice acting anyway. All of the animation material is gold. Likewise, five otherwise throwaway promo featurettes are able to right themselves with behind-the-scenes footage. Six preliminary animatics (with optional commentary) show the film as the narrative tone progressed.

Finally, co-directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi provide full length commentating duties as they discuss the various technical challenges. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Extras]


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *