‘Boxtrolls’ is an existential fantasy, set in clay

By Eitan Schramm, 11th grade

The BoxTrolls is a 3D stop-motion film directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi. Set in — and under– the fictional town of Cheesebridge, a town dedicated to the consumption of cheeses, its plot is original, sweet, thought-provoking and imaginatively eventful and even promotes family values.  And the Claymation is both realistic enough to make you wonder how it’s done.

The people in charge of Cheesebridge are a group of elite cheese-lovers known as the White Hats.  The film begins when a villain, Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley), tells the head of the White Hats, Lord Portley-Rind, that the Boxtrolls have kidnapped a baby. Snatcher offers to exterminate every last Boxtroll in exchange for a White Hat membership, and Lord Portley-Rind hesitantly agrees.

Flash forward 10 years and we discover that the baby who was supposedly kidnapped is being raised by the brilliant, peaceful and fun-loving Boxtrolls, particularly one Boxtroll named Fish — as this is what is written on his box. Fish (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker) is described as a father figure to the boy.

While out scavenging for useful items, the boy named Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright) meets a young girl named Winifred ( Elle Fanning) who is Lord Portley-Rind’s daughter.

Winifred has been led to believe that Boxtrolls are bloodthirsty monsters, so she is surprised—and a little disappointed — to find that they’re just the opposite. She also discovers the evil Snatcher’s plot.   She and Eggs devise a plan of their own to tell the people of Cheesebridge the truth about the Boxtrolls and Archibald Snatcher.

The voice actors’ performance is so realistic you’d almost think that it is actually happening. The Claymation – animation through shaping clay, then adjusting it, then photographing it, then repeating the process — is likewise incredibly well done.  As Laika, the stop-motion animation studio, explains on its website, “Our characters spawn from pencil and paper, are sculpted by human hands, designed by computers and manufactured by machines.”

Their heads and faces are actually manufactured from a 3D printer, but it still takes about a week to make one puppet blink.  And the action seems as natural as the human actors’ voices.

The website adds that puppets are about four inches tall and begin as concept sketches and drawings. Next, small, flexible, metal skeletons are put together. Bodies are sculpted from clay for the skeletons, and finally faces are split into two parts, above the eyes and below the eyes.

Each individual face part has over 200 different expressions, so the possible combinations for facial expressions are innumerable. The finished products look like little clay, cartoony, action figures, believable and just cute enough to love.

As if all that weren’t enough, the film has a humorous existential ending, containing two underlying messages.  One is embodied in the Boxtrolls, whose story teaches that you shouldn’t hide from the struggles of life.

Perhaps the more subtle message is displayed through two of Snatcher’s henchmen, Mr. Trout and Mr. Pickles, who constantly wonder whether they are the good guys or the bad guys.  By the end of the film they realize the truth and successfully attempt to redeem themselves – but we are reminded us that doubts can be the most important tools to choose the right path in life.

While there are a number of frightening scenes, kids as well as adults will most certainly enjoy and get a kick out of this movie.  It is in general release throughout Los Angeles.