No more hiding...

No more hiding…

A week or so ago, someone sent me a link they’d come across to a collection of fairy tales. The usual suspects were there of course: Beauty and The Beast, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, and the like. But then as I sifted through it, I discovered dozens and dozens of fairy tales I’d never even heard of before that seemed fascinating. Stories with titles like The Golden Blackbird, Toads and Diamonds, and Nunda – Eater of People. It seemed as though the person showed me these stories had made an archeological find, and handed me something classic that felt like something new. Then, about ten days later, I found myself watching something new that felt like something classic.

It’s wild the way that happens.

THE BOXTROLLS is the story of a town called Cheesebridge. While some towns have pest problems with crows or rats, the residents of Cheesebridge are terrified of Boxtrolls; a creepy band of scavengers who come out at night and pillage. At the story’s outset, a ne’er-do-well named Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley) approaches the town elders known as “The White Hats”. He makes a bargain to rid the town of all Boxtrolls, in exchange for a place at the table with The White Hats. They reluctantly agree.

As the years go on, Snatcher shows a mild degree of slow-but-steady success, and soon there are fewer and fewer Boxtrolls pillaging the shadows of Cheesebridge.

Far below the town though, we learn the truth about The Boxtrolls. They aren’t dangerous to the residents of Cheesebridge at all. Contrary to the myth, they do not have rivers of blood and mountains of bones strewn about their caverns. Instead they have all manner of inventions. Wonderful gizmos crafted from things the townspeople thought were trash. They aren’t interested in scaring the townspeople – in fact, The Boxtrolls themselves scare rather easily. They really just want to be left alone, live happily in their caverns, and sleep as a gigantic pile of boxes in the centre.

But as time goes on, that pile gets smaller and smaller thanks to Snatcher.

In the middle of all of this is “Eggs” (voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright). Eggs is a human baby who is living with The Boxtrolls, and specifically being raised by one named “Fish”. For the first half of the story, it remains a mystery how a human baby could have found its way to the Boxtroll community at all, let alone how he could be raised as one. Yet there he is – the missing link between the human world and the Boxtroll world. When he is eventually discovered by the daughter of a town elder, Winnie (voiced by Elle Fanning), she suggests that he go to her father and help show that The Boxtrolls aren’t the monsters that the town believes they are.

However, doing this would upset Snatcher’s plans…and when a man wants what he wants so badly, upsetting plans can lead to dastardly deeds.

Eggs

While THE BOXTROLLS isn’t quite the most clever film to come out of Laika Studios – Coraline and Paranorman would rank well ahead of it – it still comes loaded with the sort of charm that studio is quickly becoming known for. The film has such a beautiful tactile aesthetic, the sort of thing that goes hand-in-hand with well-executed stop-motion animation. I won’t waste your time with thoughts about how stop-motion is better than computer animation, but I do find that there is a warmth to the latter that feels unique. Regardless of the medium, that charm I was talking about would shine through no matter what.

Whether it’s the names The Boxtrolls give each-other, the way they show their appreciation by thumping on their boxes in “applause”, or watching Eggs as he tries to interact with humans…the film comes with a great deal of heart and joy that will stay with you well after the lights go up.

THE BOXTROLLS has some sly things to say about greed. It’s easy to point to The White Hats as a symbol of this, after all they are men who would take enough money to build a new hospital for the town and spend it on a gigantic wheel of brie. They are greedy, no two ways about it. However, what tells the story of greed better is the thrust of Snatcher’s story. Here we have a man who wants nothing more than to be accepted into this circle of opulent men. He desperately wants a white hat of his own, and will capture as many Boxtrolls as it takes to get himself one.

The thing is, he is tremendously allergic to the very thing that bonds this group together. It’s as if he wanted to be invited to a poker night, even though green felt gave him a terrible rash. But it doesn’t matter to him – the white hat means status, and it’s status that he wants. One wonders how many of us put the greedy drive for status ahead of our own well-being.

This being a fairy tale, we must – of course – have a moral to the story to take home with us. The moral in this case is a good one, and it is to be not afraid of who you are. Whenever The Boxtrolls sense danger approaching, they turtle into the boxes that they wear. As humans, we do the same thing when we feel trouble around us. We keep our head down, blend into the crowd, and just hope not to get noticed. This is a bad to hand down. We need to be prouder of who we are. We need to keep our heads up and wear our colours proudly. It’s only then that our hard work and creative spirit can get noticed, and perhaps become a part of something bigger than ourselves.

Alan Snow’s story that this film is based upon feels like it could have been listed in that fairy tale collection. It is a modern piece of art that is so delightful, it’s curious to believe that it hasn’t been told and retold to children at bedtime for decades. Much to the contrary, this story is not yet ten-years-old. To encapsulate that sort of classical tone is extremely difficult; it involves completely divorcing yourself from the cynical nature of modern thinking. While some might knock the tone of this story as “familiar”, I see that as a compliment. To create something so loving and rich that it feels as if it has always been there is a rare achievement.

I look forward to someday handing someone a collection of fairy tales that includes The Box Trolls…it would make for fine company.

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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