Boxtrolls, The (4K UHD Review)
DirectorGraham Annable, Anthony Stacchi
Release Date(s)2014 (February 28, 2023)
Studio(s)LAIKA/Focus Features (Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A-
The Boxtrolls is based upon the children’s novel Here Be Monsters! by author and illustrator Alan Snow and is voiced largely by British actors. It tells the story of an impoverished community, with somewhat incompetent aristocratic leaders, with a problem, which is that they’re being terrorized by trolls who live in the sewers and hide in boxes whenever anybody comes near. When an orphaned child raised by these “boxtrolls” decides to venture out, it triggers events that will forever change the relationship between the boxtrolls and the world above.
The Boxtrolls is a film that’s easy to get completely swept up in (LAIKA’s output has a tendency to do that), though some have attacked the film’s narrative, purporting it be weak and aimless, missing or ignoring those vital parts necessary for the story being told. It also contains the age-old theme of wanting to be accepted in a normal society, which is conventional in its own right, but it’s executed well enough with an aesthetic akin to The Nightmare Before Christmas. The cast includes the likes of Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Elle Fanning, Jared Harris, Tracy Morgan, and Isaac Hempstead Wright in the lead as “Eggs.”
Children often miss out on slight darker, well-made material in comparison to many other modern animated films, seemingly all of them made to be as inoffensive as possible with bright and colorful images, bottom-of-the-barrel humor, and no sense of soul or wonder. The Boxtrolls is the antithesis of that, containing many themes, hidden or otherwise, and strong characters that one becomes invested in, never mind the visual appeal. Part of the charm is the stop-motion animation, which is the obvious main selling point, but the fun is in the knowing that it’s the labors of a group of people in small rooms, posing small figures and taking separate pictures in order to bring them to life at twenty-four frames a second. It’s magic, and for my own personal taste, more interesting than what much of modern animation has to offer. It’s a beautiful film, all told.
The Boxtrolls was captured digitally by director of photography John Ashlee Prat (along with the animators) using Canon EOS-5D Mark II cameras at 5K quality (computer-generated visual effects were likely rendered at 2K quality). Everything was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Shout! Factory’s Ultra HD debut of the film comes sourced from a “new 4K restoration,” graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are available) with the supervision of LAIKA. Like Shout! Factory’s releases of Coraline and ParaNorman, this is likely a 2K upscale, but it’s excellent. The additional depth enhances the most intricate of details in the animation and environments that it takes place in. Contrast is improved, appearing much clearer with inky deep blacks. The HDR, particularly the Dolby Vision, widens the gamut considerably, allowing for the varied environments substantial saturation. The various hues and textures, most of which feature reds, greens, blues, and purples (as well as a variety of browns and oranges), are lush. It’s a top notch presentation with no digital artifacts to be found.
Audio is included in a new English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible) track. It’s a powerful track that adds additional space to an already solid sound mix, opening up opportunities in the overhead speakers while immersing listeners with crisp sound effects and a gorgeous score. Dialogue exchanges are always discernible, and the overall track packs a punch with thumping low end activity. Additionally, there are also a pair of 5.1 DTS tracks in Spanish and French, as well as an English Descriptive Video Service track. Subtitle options include English SDH, Spanish, and French.
The Boxtrolls on 4K Ultra HD sits in a black amaray case alongside a 1080p Blu-ray of the film and a 12-page insert booklet featuring behind-the-scenes stills, concept art, and an essay by Ramin Zahed. It’s also available in Steelbook packaging. The following extras are included on each disc, all in HD:
DISC ONE (UHD)
- Audio Commentary with Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi
DISC TWO (BD)
- Audio Commentary with Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi
- Inside LAIKA: Discovering the Character of The Boxtrolls (9:33)
- Inside LAIKA: Character Animation:
- Mr. Pickles & Mr. Trout (1:37)
- Lord Portely-Rind (1:13)
- Archibald Snatcher (1:52)
- Winnie (1:21)
- Fish & Shoe (1:59)
- Eggs (1:23)
- Feature-Length Storyboards (96:06)
- Dare to Be Square: Behind the Scenes of The Boxtrolls:
- Voicing The Boxtrolls (11:41)
- Inside the Box (5:25)
- The Big Cheese: Allergy Snatcher (4:33)
- Deconstructing the Dance (5:32)
- Think Big: The Mecha Drill (6:05)
- The Nature of Creation (2:54)
- Trolls Right Off the Tongue (2:47)
- Allergic to Easy (2:58)
- Let’s Dance (1:57)
- On the Shoulders of Giants (2:29)
- Character Art Still Gallery (24 in all)
- Concept Art Still Gallery (24 in all)
- Behind the Scenes Still Gallery (24 in all)
- Trailer (2:37)
The extras begin with the original 2014 audio commentary featuring directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, which is an upbeat track offering plenty of information about the production. The newest additions are the Inside LAIKA featurettes. The first, Discovering the Characters of The Boxtrolls, features footage from the recording sessions, behind-the-scenes footage, and rare test footage. The second, Character Animation, offers six separate featurettes on some of the characters. Dare to Be Square is broken up into five chapters, which can optionally be played all at once. It covers much of the same ground, even repeating some of the same interview snippets. There’s also a set of Feature-Length Storyboards, but the rest of the extras consist of promotional material. Interview participants throughout include directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, producer David Bleiman Ichioka, editor Edie Ichioka, composer Dario Marianelli, producer and lead animator Travis Knight, art director Curt Enderle, visual effects supervisors Steve Emerson and Brian Van’t Hul, character designer Mike Smith, character sculptor Kent Melton, animation supervisor Brad Schiff, animation riggers Oliver Jones and Gerland Svoboda, story artist David Vandervoort, animators Phil Dale, Florian Perinelle, Anthony Straus, replacement animator and engineer Brian McLean, CG facial animator Jeff Croke, lead replacement animation specialist Tim Yates, facial animation supervisor Peg Serena, model builder Raul Martinez, costume designer Deborah Cook, creative supervisor of puppet fabrication Georgina Hayns, and actors Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Tracy Morgan, Jared Harris, Toni Collette, Steve Blum, and Dee Bradley Baker. There are also three still galleries containing a total of 72 images of character art, concept art, and behind-the-scenes photos, as well as one of the film’s trailers.
The biggest omission from this release is the 3D version of the film. Since it was specifically shot with 3D in mind, it’s a shame that it hasn’t been included here (although you can still find it for a decent price). Not included from the previous Universal Blu-ray release is a set of six Preliminary Animatic Sequences with optional audio commentary by the directors (Baby in the Trash, Eggs in the Underworld, Man on a Horse, Trubshaw’s Inventorium, Cheese Shop, and Tea and Cheese). Aside from those missing bits, The Boxtrolls soars in 4K.
- Tim Salmons
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