Sunday, January 18, 2015

Video review: "The Boxtrolls"

“The Boxtrolls” was easily my favorite animated film of last year – partly because the stop-motion gem is so visually alive and imaginative, but also because there really wasn’t much in the way of competition. Let’s face it, once we got past this movie and one or two others, 2014 was something of a cartoon wasteland.

This picture, based on a book by Alan Snow, simply oozes with British culture and appeal, from the Cockney accents and damp cobblestone streets down to the diaspora of wonky teeth. Set in the late 19th or early 20th century, the story concerns a secret society of gentle pointy-headed critters who live underground and wear castoff cardboard boxes instead of clothes.

They don’t have a discernible language or even names; they each go by whatever picture is on their boxes, which they pilfer – along with many other things – from the humans above. The exception is Eggs (voice of Isaac Hempstead-Wright), a human boy who was kidnapped (sort of) by the boxtrolls as a baby and raised as one of their own.

Their adventures take them above ground, where the terrifying Archibald Snatcher (a delightful Ben Kingsley) has appointed himself chief boxtroll catcher. Soon most of the troll population has been grabbed up and tossed into his dungeons. The daughter of a local lord (Elle Fanning) provides reluctant help, mostly out of resentment toward her absentee father.

It seems Snatcher dreams of joining the cadre of “White Hats” – genteel gentlemen who run the town, ostensibly -- though they don’t seem to do more than sit around sampling exotic cheeses. By portraying the boxtrolls as a scourge, Snatcher hopes to stoke public fear and use it to springboard himself into their good graces.

Visually arresting and impishly funny, “The Boxtrolls” is a family-friendly treat.

Fortunately, the film is being released on video with a host of excellent extra features. There’s a feature-length commentary track by directors Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable, and a raft of featurettes touching on all aspects of production, from casting the voice actors to creating a fancy ballroom dance scene with stop-motion puppets.

There are also preliminary animatic sequences and much more.



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