Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Boxtrolls

Stop-motion animation is sort of a weird beast these days. It is, as always, a time-consuming, labor-intensive process (a fact brilliantly riffed on at the end of the movie). But it's not a smooth visual, to the point where when Aardman and Sony collaborated on their software to make Flushed Away, choppiness was built-in in order to simulate that look. It's kind of weird.

The implication of the ending bit is that this movie was done by hand, but however it was done, it's occasionally distractingly choppy, in between some strong art design. This is the 4th movie from Laika, who also did The Corpse Bride, Coraline and Paranorman, which may have been similarly distracting in parts, though I don't recall noting that at the time.

The choppiness sort of works as a metaphor for the whole movie: There's a lot to admire here, even if overall it seems a little wanting.

The Boxtrolls is the tale of some shy, cowardly trolls who live under a city, coming up only at night to fetch the city's broken, discarded machinery, which they take to their little underground city to repair.

Among the trolls is a human boy who doesn't know he's human, but who ends up going to the overworld to save his people from the evil troll exterminator. The Exterminator plans to wipe out the trolls completely and forever, which will help him achieve his great ambition to join the elite of the city and their opulent cheese tasting parties.

You know, just once I'd like to see a story about monsters where the monsters aren't the good guys.

Anyway, he meets an obnoxious girl, the daughter of one of the elites, and discovers the nefarious plan of the Bad Guy to Do Bad Things to the Poor Box Trolls. It's been noted that the story parallels that of the Nazis and Jews in WWII but I actually didn't think of it that way. Despite watching (literally) five or six Holocaust themed movies a year, I don't automatically go Godwin. And I think the deal with Hitler is that while he was horrible in terms of scope and efficiency, he pretty much ran the usual despot playbook.

I mean, the idea that someone would demonize a productive and beneficial part of society in an attempt to gain power for himself? When does that not happen?

So...it's not great. It's easily the worst of the four Laika films (which could arguably ranked in the order they came out, though we could debate whether Coraline was better than The Corpse Bride). The story doesn't really hold up. The trolls are kind of hard to distinguish one from the next, which is kind of interesting because they're more distinct than, say Despicable Me's minions, but the minions by-and-large seem to have more character.

All the characters are kind of forgettable somehow. Oh, except the evil dude's (Ben Kingsley) henchmen played by Nick Frost (The World's End) and Richard Ayoade ("The IT Crowd"), who are increasingly dubious that they are, in fact, in the service of good in this story. The thoughtful-if-brutish henchman is kind of clich├ęd by now but is still appealing.

The movie gets better as it goes along. By the end I was fairly engaged, though there was a by-the-numbers feel to it in most regards.

However, one way this movie shines struck me almost instantly and made me wish it had been better overall: It's remarkably boy oriented. That's a pretty rare thing. The trolls are mechanically oriented, for example, and the troll-boy, Eggs, eats the Boxtrolls diet: grubs and the like. Winnie, the girl, is interesting and the daughter of an elite, but definitely not a princess.

Good score by Dario Marinelli (Atonement, Anna Karenina, Quartet).

The Boy saw this with his girlfriend which, as he says, eliminates his ability to comment meaningfully on it.

I saw this with The Barb who liked it okay. It was no Rio 2, but it beat out How To Train Your Dragon 2.

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