Most animation companies play it safe. All apparent risks are calculated and potential backlash is taken into consideration. Portland-based stop-motion animation company Laika is more forward. Laika’s three films so far (not counting Corpse Bride) have gone beyond heart-tugging tales peppered with comedy. Coraline explored the tricky relationship between mothers and daughters, while ParaNorman surveys the fear of the unknown, and the negative consequences that come with prejudice.
The Boxtrolls think at an even at a larger scale. The title creatures are an inoffensive community of scavengers and tinkerers who are targeted by Archibald Snatcher (voice of Ben Kingsley), an exterminator hoping to rise his social status by eliminating the “threat”. Via deceit and propaganda, Snatcher decimates the population of boxtrolls without as much as a beep from the public. Luckily, the few remaining goblins have an ace in the hole. An abandoned kid they found long time ago and may change the general perception of them.
The terrific animation (assisted by a 3-D printer) and slightly off-center sense of humor further distinguish The Boxtrolls. Two of Snatcher’s assistants (voice by Richard Ayoade and Nick Frost) provide meta-commentary and the biggest laughs during end credits since 22 Jump Street.
The one problem with The Boxtrolls is that the main character –Eggs, the kid raised by the creatures- is not as strong as previous Laika leads (Coraline, Norman) and is often overshadowed by supporting characters. Even his sidekick, a spunky young girl hoping for carnage instead of cute, misunderstood critters, is more appealing than bland Eggs.
Regardless, The Boxtrolls is less of a chore for parents and has more substance than regular children fare. Three prairie dogs.
The Boxtrolls are now playing.