The Other Side of Animation: The Boxtrolls Review

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Before I get officially started, I just wanted to be clear about my editorial on Kubo and the Two Strings. I don’t think there was any intentional racism or anything like that in terms of the casting. I just thought it was a bit weird to see only two Asian actors in a film that was heavily based on Japanese mythology. I don’t think the people at Laika are bad for casting who they did. Heck, if they see this review and my editorial, I would be happy to get in touch with them for an interview about Kubo. It’s honestly my most anticipated animated film of the year. Now then, let’s begin with the actual review for today!

I sort of surprised myself here with this series of reviews. The first surprise is that I haven’t talked about the amazing Studio Ghibli films yet, but I will get to them in good time. The second surprise is that I haven’t really talked about Laika yet. This studio is well known among the animation scene, for being one of the few studios that does the back-breaking work of stop-motion animation and has been very popular among the movie-going audience for their previous hits, Coraline and Paranorman. So, with this series of reviews talking about movies that are lesser known, why am I talking about Laika? Well, I think they are the underrated studio of the animation scene. People might know of their films, but they always seem to be overshadowed by the bigger releases. Since I did an article on their upcoming film, Kubo and the Two Strings, I decided to tackle their most recent film, The Boxtrolls. The Boxtrolls was even better than Big Hero 6. The film was released on September 16th, 2014, and was directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi. These two talented individuals have huge experiences within animation and visual effects for films like Hook, The Rocketeer, Paranorman, Back to the Future, Antz, James and the Giant Peach, A Goofy Movie, and video games like Full Throttle, The Dig, Bone: Out of Boneville, and Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent. So, how good is this film with boxes full of trolls, and a governmental organization that has a weird obsession with cheese? Well, get your favorite box and let’s find out!

The Boxtrolls takes place in a place called Cheesebridge. A story goes out that the local monsters known as Boxtrolls have kidnapped a baby and are going to eat it. Luckily, the audience gets to learn that the Boxtrolls have not eaten the child, but instead, have raised it like one of their own. The young boy is named Eggs, voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright (you know, Bran Stark from Game of Thrones) and once old enough, he learns about the cruel upper world with the villains of the film, the red hats, who were tasked to get rid of all the Boxtrolls. Along this frightful experience, he gets to know the mayor of the town’s daughter named Winnie, voiced by Elle Fanning. Can Eggs save his Boxtroll family, and learn the truth about his past?

While I do have a lot of praise for this film, I do have a few criticisms. If you have seen the advertising and have seen the movie, you know that the film does not have its dark/mature-toned stories that were in Laika’s other work. It has dark imagery, but I remember when I watched Paranorman for the first time, and was surprised at how in-depth the film was with its characters. The story is also a tad predictable, since we have seen some of these story elements in other films like Tarzan, with Eggs being raised by creatures. Normally, I would be a lot harsher on the more predictable story elements, since we should be seeing something done differently with said tropes, but just like in How to Train your Dragon, they are executed well enough to where I don’t care. I also wish the Boxtrolls got a little more development in terms of how they arrived and why they have boxes in the first place.

With those negatives out of the way, let’s gush! This film has some of the best stop-motion animation around, that might even be slightly better than Aardman! I love the art design with the slightly gothic/Victorian look of the world in which they put the characters. While the theme of class disparity is not very subtle, with the white hats and the boxtrolls, it does bring up some pretty entertaining elements to the characters, like how the white hats would rather spend money on cheese than things that would help the community. While Eggs is a decent enough and likable character, the other characters overlap him as the more entertaining individuals. I love Winnie, and how instead of being constantly afraid of the trolls, is headstrong and has a thing about wanting to see the so-called vicious nature of the Boxtrolls. However, the characters that steal the show are the villains. The Red Hats are probably some of the most entertaining villains I have ever seen in a family film. It helps that the casting for the villains are great, and these actors are hardly recognizable as said characters. You have Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, and a hard-to-recognize Tracy Morgan as the goons, but the one who I was surprised by the most was the lead villain, who was played by Ben Kingsley. Kingsley’s character also has elements that have reminded many people of Nightcrawler, where you work so hard to obtain your goal whether or not it ends up killing you. Even though I think the villains have the best lines and characters, the rest of the voice cast does a stellar job at fitting the setting. This is why I praise actors who can pull off voice work. It’s not easy as heck, as Chris Rock made into an infamous joke about how much celebrity mugging there is in animated films. Instead of voice mugging, you get actual actors who care about their job of bringing the characters to life. I also adore that the film doesn’t lean on modern pop culture lingo. It makes the movie more timeless for sticking to normal lingo. In terms of humor, some of the jokes fall flat, but it’s a film that made me laugh a lot.

While The Boxtrolls might be a bit more simple compared to Laika’s previous work, it’s still a very creative and entertaining film. If for some reason you have not picked this film up, you should. It was also filmed in 3D, and not retrofitted, so if you had to pick a version of the film to purchase, get the one that has the 3D, Blu-ray, and DVD combo pack. It’s one of the best animated films I have seen of the 2010s. You know what? I loved getting to talk about stop-motion so much, I want to talk about another recent stop-motion classic. Next time, we will take a look at Shaun the Sheep Movie. Thanks for reading, and see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

Hit-or-Miss Movie Predictions: Kubo and the Two Strings

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Welcome back to Hit-or-Miss Trailer Predictions, which will now be called Hit-or-Miss Movie Predictions! This is where I give my first impressions of upcoming animated films, and point out the good, the bad, and the interesting. In the end, I shall predict if it will be a hit, a miss, or something different altogether.

Out of all the studios I have yet to talk about, I have surprised myself that I haven’t talked about Laika. I mean, I should since they are the only ones making stop-motion animated films that really do push the envelope of what can go into a film aimed at all ages. Don’t fret though; I will review their work in the near future. For now, let’s talk about what is quite frankly, my most anticipated animated movie of 2016, Kubo and the Two Strings. Let’s get started with the impressions! Oh, and here is a link to the trailer if you want to watch it for yourself!

Animation/Art Direction

There is no doubt in my mind or anyone’s mind that this is one heck of a beautiful-looking movie. I mean, these individuals at Laika have made some visually impressive movies in the past, and they seem to get better and better after each film. The film’s look just hits all of those moods of delightful, ominous, and weird. You can tell how much love and effort Laika put into their movies, which is leagues more than most third-party studios, even studios like Dreamworks.

 

Humor

I will say, and probably say again in the future, that the comedic aspects of Laika films have always been hit-or-miss with me. For every joke that works, there is one that doesn’t. It definitely depends on the film itself, since I found the jokes in Paranorman to work better than the ones in The Boxtrolls, but my point still stands that the humor is not consistent. Of course, I realize that humor is subjective. It seems like the humor is taking more of a backseat in this film, and I am all for it. Granted, you can probably see one of the jokes coming when they introduce George Takei’s character in the trailer, but overall, it seems like the humor will be more subtle or not as heavy in this movie. I do hope I’m right though, I would hate for something this atmospheric and beautiful to be riddled with bad comedy.

 

The story

Kubo is a young boy who lives with his mother in a village. One day, a spirit from the past releases an age-old vendetta, and causes mass chaos with gods and monsters invading the land to get Kubo and his powers. Kubo then sets off on a journey to obtain a magical armor his father wore to save the land.

 

Any concerns?/Casting

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, the voice cast. Listen, I can probably guess why they made these casting decisions, but it’s 2016, so this is kind of awkward. With the recent Oscar controversy and the Gods of Egypt casting problems, you would think Hollywood would have been more…cautious with the casting. Not that the actors this film hired are bad, because they aren’t. George Takei, Ralph Fiennes, Charlize Theron, and Matthew McConaughey are not bad actors at all. The problem is that in a film that is heavily inspired by Japanese folklore and mythology, they only hire two Asian actors. I’m sorry, but you can’t tell me this isn’t a bit tone deaf in terms of casting.

Now, with that being said, I can probably understand why they got so many recognizable actors. My guess is that due to stop-motion being a hard sell for some reason, they promised to get some big actors who are popular right now. It’s a shame that Hollywood thinks you can’t make an animated family film in any other form than CGI. I think the acclaim films like Song of the Sea, Ernest & Celestine, and Laika’s other films proven that other animated art forms are still amazing and can lead to great products, but I digress. It just seems like it’s a bummer that they couldn’t find some other great Asian actors that could have fit some of these roles perfectly. Now, of course, if the actors do a good job immersing themselves in their characters, then that is a good thing, but like I said, it is 2016, and to have only two Asian actors in a film that is heavily leaning on themes of Japanese mythology, it’s hard not to notice this.

Another interesting fact is that Laika has made two films in a row with a male lead. Why not make the lead a female? I can understand if by the end, if the main lead isn’t an interesting character, then the gender wouldn’t change anything, but I wonder if they will make another movie with a female lead again, as in Coraline.

 

Prediction: Hit!

Now, whether I think the casting is a big deal or not, I do feel like the film will be a critical hit! To me, Laika hasn’t made a bad movie. Some of their films might have better elements than others, but so far, not one is what I would consider to be an official dud. I think if you have enjoyed their other films, then you should definitely go out and see this movie when it’s released in theaters later this year!