Movie Review: “The Boxtrolls” Is Visually Stunning But Lacks Heart

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Review by James McDonald

A young orphaned boy raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collectors tries to save his friends from an evil exterminator.

During the summer, I saw previews for “The Boxtrolls” which looked pretty awesome. Any screening I attended, if that preview came on and there were kids present, the whole theater would come to life with the sound of children’s laughter. Sadly, I don’t have any good news for those kids who wanted to go and see it. It’s not that it’s a bad film, on the contrary, directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi bring a visual vibrancy to the movie that I haven’t witnessed since “Paranorman” and “Coraline”, the real problem is that the film is way too intense for young children. Some of the other critics I saw it with were in agreement with one stating that she had planned on taking her niece to see it but would now be making alternate arrangements.

The movie tells the tale of Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), a young boy who, according to legend, as a baby, was kidnapped after his father was seemingly attacked and killed by the Boxtrolls, mythical creatures who live beneath the town and, according to the locals, feed on the flesh and bones of young children. Of course, all of this is proclaimed by the town’s Boxtroll exterminator, Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), because as long as he continues to fill everyone with fear and cautions them to stay indoors after nightfall when the flesh-eating creatures apparently come out to feed, he will continue to keep his job. Of course, these Boxtrolls are nothing of the sort. They are happy-go-lucky, playful critters and while they most certainly do come out at night, it’s only because they are afraid of the humans.

They rummage through trash cans and back alleyways and accumulate as much junk as they can and bring them back down to their underground dwelling. As the old saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and here, that is definitely the case. They pick up old clocks, stuffed teddy bears, anything the humans have grown tired of and they acquire them for themselves and put them to good use. Each Boxtroll assumes their name from whatever carton they use as their overclothes so we have Eggs, Fish, Wheels, Bucket and so on. One night, after hearing a noise coming from outside her house, Winnie (Elle Fanning), the daughter of the town’s wealthiest aristocrat, Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), decides to investigate when she discovers Eggs and they quickly become friends.

When she realizes that these creatures are indeed friendly and not vicious, she and Eggs spend the duration of the movie trying to convince her father and the rest of the townspeople of their discovery. Naturally, Archibald Snatcher doesn’t want this information announced to anyone so he hatches a plan of his own which involves the annihilation of all the Boxtrolls and anybody who gets in his way. The film is based on the children’s novel ‘Here Be Monsters’ by Alan Snow and while that particular story may have indeed appealed to young children, this film version is just way too intense for the kiddies and while the movie is rated PG, I would personally gauge it at PG-13.

We have scenes of young children being lowered into fiery pits and their feet bursting into flames, children being terrorized by bad guys with all sorts of deadly instruments and in one scene, a bad guy’s entire body explodes right in front of everyone, including the children. I honestly found it hard to enjoy the movie because I knew the film, in previews and marketing strategies, was being aimed at a core audience of young kids instead of an older age group who could handle the dark themes so much better.

Visually, the movie and especially the animation, is astonishing and the voice work from all included is top-notch. There are some laugh-out-loud moments and some heartfelt scenes that sadly, didn’t last as long as I felt they should because the filmmakers appeared to be in a rush to get to the scary scenes as quickly as possible and that’s a shame because in a movie like this, it’s the heart that truly stirs the emotions.

In theaters September 26th

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James McDonald

Film/Theater Critic & Interviewer at Red Carpet Crash
Originally from Dublin, Ireland, James is a Movie Critic and Celebrity Interviewer with over 30 years of experience in the film industry as an Award-Winning Filmmaker.
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