Box Office Democracy: The Boxtrolls
The Boxtrolls is a movie that always felt like enjoyment was just beyond my grasp. It has so many things going on and I never felt like I got quite enough information or context to really appreciate them. This ended up making me feel very old because I probably wouldn’t have gotten caught up on that as a child. Back then, I would have just considered each thing, found it pleasing or displeasing and moved on but now while they’re giving me a cross-dressing villain or an oddball pseudo-murder montage and I’m still thinking about how weird it is that everything in this entire world is somehow cheese-based.
Chief among the distracting details in this movie is how wretched the status quo is that the heroes are ultimately trying to defend. Snatcher, the villain, wants to exterminate the boxtrolls so he can join the “white hat” class of aristocracy that rules Cheesebridge. By the end of the movie it kind of blurs, we’re of course rooting for the boxtrolls so we’re also rooting for Snatcher to be kept out of the upper class. The problem comes with how terrible the white hats are and the movie puts us on their side in an odd way. I don’t like sitting in a kids’ movie rooting for a group of people who decided to spend money collected for a hospital on a colossal wheel of brie. The end of the movie doesn’t even give the impression that things have actually changed. It’s a bummer.
I love stop motion animation and I’m glad to see Laika Studios continuing to carry that torch despite what must be the increasingly siren call of computer animation. There’s a lovely coda scene where two minor characters discuss what it would be like if their lives were controlled by unseen hands and the camera pulls back and shows the time lapse of the animators endlessly posing and reposing the figures for even this simple shot and it’s completely mind-blowing. I enjoy knowing that level of effort went in to the film and it makes it easy to forgive little visual hiccups (like some really odd color choices on facial highlighting) that I would be going after as hard as I could with a CG animated film. Stop motion makes even a big studio film feel like a labor of love and that’s worth a lot after seeing one too many films aimed at children that feel like a quick money grab.
While we’re talking about money grabs though I need to talk about the Minion-sized elephant in the room when discussing The Boxtrolls which is that the titular characters seems awfully similar to Dreamworks’ little yellow cash machines. They’re approximately the same size, they also speak largely in nonsense, are obsessively taken with mundane objects, and are prone to fits of slapstick. None of these were invented by the Despicable Me movies, they’re probably all older than the written word, but it feels like a hell of a coincidence after those annoying yellow misfits have become theme-park-ride-worthy franchise stealers. It might not be the raison d’etre for this movie but some bean counter at Laika has to at least be hoping.