DirectorGraham Annable, Anthony Stacchi
Release Date(s)2014 (January 20, 2015)
Studio(s)LAIKA/Focus Features (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
The Boxtrolls is the latest stop-motion animated project from the folks at LAIKA, who also brought us Paranorman and Coraline. It was based upon the children’s novel “Here Be Monsters!” by author and illustrator Alan Snow, and was 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 are 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 into the world above, it triggers events that will forever change the relationship between the boxtrolls and the world above.
To be quite honest, The Boxtrolls was one of my favorite movies of 2014. I don’t make year-end lists, but if I did, the film would definitely be on it. I’m not often thrilled or left with a sense of awe when I go out to the movies lately. I’ve grown so cynical about the movies that I watch nowadays that finding some that are just a pure delight to me are hard to come by. The Boxtrolls is a movie that I was completely swept up in when I first saw it. And I didn’t bother seeing it in 3-D as I’m not really a fan of that anyway, but if I had, I’m sure I would still feel the same way about it. It woke up the child in me, riding the ride without thinking heavily about how it was all put together (that came later). LAIKA’s output has a tendency to do that. Their work is usually not insulting. It’s well-made, contains many hidden themes, has strong characters, and always has a slightly darker edge to them. It’s my belief that children miss out on that with most of today’s animated films, seemingly all of them made to be as inoffensive as possible with bright and colorful images, terrible jokes, and no sense of soul or wonder to them. The Boxtrolls is the antithesis of that.
And seeing this movie with a mainstream audience gives you a lot of perspective. I’m sure the jokes went over most of their heads, if they even understood them at all through the British accents. It’s not a problem for me as I’m accustomed to it, but I’m sure it turned off many people who saw it. To give you an idea of how little this movie affected people in our neck of the woods, at trick-or-treat time last year, my better half saw a kid dressed as one of the characters in the movie. And apparently she was the only person that noticed, according to the child’s parents. To be quite honest, I don’t really understand how anyone can fully dislike a movie like this, but at the same time, fawn over something like Frozen. They’re two completely different movies with different motivations behind them. The Boxtrolls has much stronger and more interesting characters as well. I can understand disappointment perhaps, but outright dislike and hate? That’s kind of baffling to me.
Most have attacked The Boxtrolls’ story and claimed it to be mostly weak and aimless, to which I disagree. I felt that all of the parts were necessary for the story being told with the theme of acceptance in society, something that the film was trying to get across. But, as far as I know, not one person that I’ve spoken to about the film said that the stop-motion animation was poor. That’s the main selling point for the movie I suppose. It’s not a Pixar or Disney project. Instead it’s a bunch of people in a room, posing small figures and taking separate pictures of them to bring them to life at 24 frames a second. It’s magic, which is part of my bias towards the movie. Finding flaws in it is difficult for me because of how entranced I was by it. It transported me, and hopefully it will transport others, especially children whose parents would be doing them a disservice by not sharing it with them. It’s a beautiful film, all told.
Beautiful as well is The Boxtrolls’ Blu-ray presentation, which features a rock solid transfer with no visible flaws whatsoever. Depth and detail are perhaps the most pleasing, but proficient as well is the transfer’s color reproduction, its black and contrast levels, and its overall clarity and sharpness. It’s a very precise presentation that’s immaculate, showing off every fine detail of not just the foreground elements but the background elements as well with exacting precision. To be succinct, this is easily one of the best animated Blu-ray presentations I’ve ever seen. The film’s soundtrack, presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD (with additional Spanish and French 5.1 DTS tracks), doesn’t quite reach that same perfect level as its visual counterpart, but it comes awfully close. Dialogue is always crisp and clear, score always has plenty of room to breathe, and sound effects are very precise, adding to the immersion. Ambience in the surrounding speakers, as well as some lift from LFE, also gives the aural presentation a very satisfying listening experience. There’s little to complain about really. It’s a 99 out 100 presentation overall. There are also subtitles in English SDH, Spanish, and French for those who might need them.
For the extras, you get a nice array of material to cull through. There’s an audio commentary with directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi; a set of 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); a set of featurettes encompassing the making-of Dare to Be Square: Behind the Scenes of The Boxtrolls (Voicing The Boxtrolls, Inside the Box, The Big Cheese: Allergy Snatcher, Deconstructing the Dance, and Think Big: The Mecha Drill); another separate set of featurettes (The Nature of Creation, Trolls Right Off the Tongue, Allergic to Easy, Let’s Dance, and On the Shoulders of Giants); a set of previews for other animated movies from Universal; a DVD copy of the movie; and finally, a paper insert with Digital HD and Ultraviolet codes.
I think it’s safe to say at this point (as well as a bit of an overstatement) that I’m a fan of this movie. It does almost everything perfectly for me to properly engage in it and enjoy it, which is really great for me. It’s not a flawless movie, but it’s superbly entertaining, and for me that’s exactly what I wanted out it. And with this Blu-ray release, I can enjoy it as many times as I wish, and I recommend that you do the same.
- Tim Salmons