Giving two animation giants, Pixar and Disney, another run for their box office money, the Oregon-based LAIKA animation studio has a new contender in “The Boxtrolls.”
Two previous LAIKA films, 2012’s “ParaNorman” and 2009’s “Coraline,” earned Oscar nominations for best animated feature film. Exceptionally entertaining, “The Boxtrolls” will easily follow suit.
“The Boxtrolls” is a gorgeous hybrid of animation techniques: stop-motion, hand-drawn and computer-generated. The film also contains a subversively smart, thoughtful story, a horde of cute characters, action, suspense and, in classic Disney-animation style, deeply poignant moments.
In the sinister personage of Archibald Snatcher, “The Boxtrolls” has a great villain. A master manipulator, old Snatcher cons the entire human population of Cheesebridge. They include the town’s mayor, Lord Portley-Rind, who reigns pompously alongside his fellow elites, known as the White Hats.
Oscar winner Ben Kingsley is the expansively wicked voice of Snatcher. Jared Harris co-stars as the cheese-obsessed Portley-Rind. Simon Pegg plays the unfortunate human who’s just about the only friend the boxtrolls named in the movie’s title have.
The boxtrolls are a community of metal scavengers and builders who transform scrap into marvelous contraptions. A music-loving bunch, they wear cardboard boxes as clothing, thus their kind’s name.
In happier days, boxtrolls lived peacefully beneath the streets of the oddly steep town of Cheesebridge. But then the scheming Snatcher saw an opportunity to raise himself from being a Red Hat to a White Hat. To further his selfish goal, he started a smear campaign against the innocent boxtrolls.
Young British actor Isaac Hempstead Wright (“Game of Thrones”) co-stars as the voice of Eggs, a human orphan raised by the boxtrolls with loving care. Eggs, like the rest of his boxtroll family, wears a box that has his name printed on the front.
Eggs grows into a lanky boy without realizing that he and the boxtrolls are not of the same species. His humanity comes in handy, allowing him to go above ground in Cheesebridge and try to save the boxtrolls from destruction by Snatcher.
During his awkward first visit above ground, Eggs meets Winnie, the 11-year-old daughter of Portley-Rind. Elle Fanning gives Winnie a prolifically expressive voice. Following some skepticism, Winnie and Eggs become allies against Snatcher.
“The Boxtrolls,” based on Alan Snow’s best-selling book, “Here Be Monsters,” occasionally reaches Marx Brothers-level comedy and slapstick. One such sequence features Eggs, a boy unschooled in the ways of humans, attending a high-society party at Portley-Rind’s palatial home. It’s funny business, choreographed with virtuoso precision.
Also masterfully done are some epic, suspenseful action sequences. The LAIKA filmmakers are great visual storytellers.
“The Boxtrolls,” after being so smart and fun, goes over the top in its third act during an uncharacteristically clumsy action sequence. The scene smacks of Hollywood action-flick excess. It can be forgiven. “The Boxtrolls” comes just short of being a four-out-of-four stars gem.