Boxtrolls is adorable and fun, with engaging intricacy of design and writing. It is also very, very British with huge themes about class. Will audiences in America be able relate?
Boxtrolls begins with the one of the title creatures apparently kidnapping a baby. Then we see a man in a red hat, desperate to report the incident to someone of power and authority. He pounds on the door of an impressive house, seeking to gain admission, which a butler eventually grants. When he presents his report, he is dismissed by the man in the white hat who he had come to see. Despite being waved away, the desperate man refuses to yield. We will come to learn that these two men in hats stand entangled in the underlying conflict of this movie. The man in the red hat, Mr. Snatcher, is a lowly exterminator. He covets a white hat of his very own, which signifies membership in the elite, ruling class of the town. Mr. Snatcher stands in contrast with Lord Portly-Rind, a civilized, white-clad gentleman, the absolute bluest of blue-bloods. The exterminator then forces the lord into a devil’s bargain. If Mr. Snatcher can catch all of the dreaded boxtrolls, then he will be elevated to a high station. Lord Portly-Rind agrees with enormous reluctance.
With this bargain struck, we move to the underground, where we are treated to the development of the baby into a proper feral boy. He is raised by the boxtrolls, subterranean creatures who live much like simple primates. They are unigue because they have a gift for tinkering with technology. The boy learns about technology, music and the rigid taboo about nakedness. Boxtrolls never remove their box. They acquire new parts for their tinkering by visiting and scavenging from the world above. It is on such a visit that they discover the exterminators who work for Mr. Scavenger.
The exterminators reflect upon their role and work to convince themselves that they are heroic people who will eventually triumph over the evil boxtrolls, although you have hear the note of doubt that always creeps into their thinking. While their mission is only partially successful, the boy ‘Eggs’ and his guardian ‘Fish’, each named for the picture that appears on their boxes, manage to escape. It is a narrow victory, and we see in montage that the hunt continues and each time the boxtrolls visit the surface they lose people to their exterminators. Eventually Fish is captured and that pushes Eggs over the edge.
Eggs decides to reject the boxtroll path of hiding and disguises himself as a normal human and visit the world above. He encounters a city fair where ongoing mythmaking explains why the boxtrolls are evil and to be feared. A rather dramatic, but insincere woman weaves a tale of the kidnapping of the Trabshaw baby and his father, both dispatched by the bloodthirsty boxtrolls. She is assisted by the lesser exterminators.
At the city fair, Eggs meets our last protagonist, the daughter of Lord Portly-Rind, who is about the same age as himself. She has an initial morbid fascination with the boxtrolls, but she is later able to puzzle out exactly what happened in the past and points the way for Eggs to attempt crossing the gap between his world of boxtrolls below and the world of misinformed adults above. Her grim fascinations hide a rather kind and idealistic soul. While she does not solve the hero’s plight she provides him with the support he needs at crucial junctures in the story.
The most innovative scene happens in the tense relationship between Mr. Snatcher and his assistant exterminators. Their leader insists in a pantomime reenactment of what high class people do in this world, which is eat fine cheese. Alas, Mr. Snatchers suffers from a horrific allergy to cheese, a fact he can neither acknowledge nor remember. The key symbol of status, power and privilege is his ultimate bane. This is presented with such sophistication and finesse as to change the entire gravity of the story. One begins to think that if Snatcher’s methods been less blood thirsty and heartless then his desire to elevate himself might have been a noble trait.
In the epilogue, we see a new social order that is far more agreeable than the demonization of the boxtrolls we face at the beginning of the story. As a huge fan of British satire, I hope this movie manages to sneak its way into the hearts of the right people and opens their eyes to a more nuanced vision of the world, much as Lakia’s previous outing Paranoman, did. I recommend this family movie for any fourth graders or above.
Final rating – Four out of Five tofu-points