Laika’s third effort features Dickensian themes & visuals galore, as well as a tragically compelling villainous arc.
“Yes! Those things. Etcetera, ectetera, big words, chummy banter.”
Dickensian hijinks take centre stage as Laika heads to the Victorian era – and boy do they make wonderful use of their chosen setting (both thematically and visually). What this studio has managed to achieve in the world of CG stop-motion animation is unparalleled. Each feature feels like a gargantuan effort – painstakingly produced by hundreds of hard-working hands who marry the worlds of practical and digital technology to construct their unique work of art. This form of filmmaking has always carried a slight gothic edge, and that lends itself to the visual style here – combining nicely with the dank grey and green colour palette.
It’s heavy on style and lighter on substance – particularly as far as its human protagonists are concerned. The titular Boxtrolls themselves make for remarkably compelling sidekicks though. What they lack in intelligible dialogue, they make up for in adorable cowardice and familial warmth. Their slapstick silliness works as a pleasant antidote to some of the film’s darker themes – but never overshadows the central narrative (unlike their yellow-coated counterparts over at Illumination). Even more entertaining are Richard Ayoade & Nick Frost’s existentialist henchmen. I could watch them pontificate over the meaning of good and evil for days.
Where the film displays real depth is with its antagonist. Visually repulsive and conjuring terrifying images of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang‘s Child Catcher, there’s also something very sad about Archibald Snatcher. His deep-rooted desire to eat cheese amongst the aristocracy and wear a ‘white hat’ mirrors the class struggle explored in many of Dickens’ works. It’s a self-destructive path marked by OTT humour that hides a tragic tale of rejection underneath. And the beauty of Laika’s work is that no matter how sadistic he is, you still can’t help but pity him.
I’ve spent the last two years harbouring unresolved feelings of resentment towards this film after it ‘stole’ The Lego Movie‘s spot as a Best Animated Feature nominee. Considering it’s actually better than fellow nomination thieves Big Hero 6 and How To Train Your Dragon 2, I reckon I may need to re-direct my scorn…