Earlier this year, I saw one of the most magical teaser trailers I’d ever seen in all my years of movie watching. It was for the most recent contribution to Claymation cinema, ‘The Boxtrolls’. I knew instantly that I wanted to see this movie. The trailer carried this spark of magic, intrigue and most surprisingly, grace, and I just had to have it in my life. I don’t know if I’ve watched a single trailer more than that one. Nothing but music and images of splendor. Then the official trailer was released, the one with the plot explained and the characters talking, and I thought to myself, “Why can’t the movie be silent images set to music?”
It seemed so much more interesting that way.
When sitting down to watch this film the other night, I was instantly transported to that teaser trailer (after the abruptly jarring opening sequence) when the film takes on a beautifully composed montage of young Eggs (the boy) growing up with the Boxtrolls, in particular one named Fish, who was his father figure. The scene isn’t very long, a few minutes, but it is entirely set to music (David Marianelli’s score is triumphant) and has so much life and character that I felt myself drawn in deeper to this world.
Then the talking started again.
I don’t often say this, but I really wish that this film had been silent. Let’s break it down to the core, show only the most compelling moments, tear out all the unnecessary dialog and just play that stunning score over what we have left. It isn’t that ‘The Boxtrolls’ is a bad film or that the story and plot and dialog is awful or anything, but it is so far beneath the visual and aural accomplishments that I really wish the film had been stripped of all the elements that, in my eyes, detract from what this could have been. With a more simplistic, minimalist approach, this could have been utter magic.
Instead, we have a cute, albeit pointless (and plot hole ridden) tale of family of the oddest shape and size.
‘The Boxtrolls’ tells the tale of a village plagued by the thought of monsters lurking beneath their streets, snatching babies and eating them and piles of bones reaching the ceilings. Those stories are fabricated, as the Boxtrolls themselves are rather simple, timid creatures. They were fabricated by a disgusting man named Archibald Snatcher who is determined to be considered ‘upper crust’. In fact, he desires to belong to this prestige ‘White Hat Society’ where he can sit in a room and eat cheese, despite his obvious lactose-intolerance. So, he strikes a deal that if he rids the town of these grotesque (so he says) creatures then he can attain a coveted white hat. So, for years he and his henchmen (who consider themselves the good guys) have been terrorizing these poor creatures, snatching them from their boxes and their homes. Eggs, a young boy who has been living with the Boxtrolls, is disillusioned when Fish is trollnapped, and so he becomes determined to find and free him. This is when he comes into contact with a precocious little girl named Winnie who wants to know more about these Boxtrolls and the legend of the little boy they apparently kidnapped.
There are themes here that are touched upon and bring a potential to the table and something richer, but that never really flourish. The idea of fatherhood and what it means to be a father (listening, protecting, helping) are mentioned and apparently expounded on, but it never really feels richly exposed and discussed. Instead, it feels kind of thrown there to make a point. I blame the absurdity of much of the plot and the holes in the plot’s progression for this. The idea that all of this is done over a simple hat, prestige that isn’t really all that well regarded, is silly, and the points never touched on (how in the world can Eggs talk like a human?) leave me wondering why such little thought was given to making this film work as a whole.
Still, it is visually appealing, and there are moments that really sing. The opening scene I touched upon earlier, and the dance scene at the ball are all stunning segments that really breathe such life into the film, but overall the film feels slight. It is a very brisk movie, feeling even shorter than its 96 minutes, thanks to a lack of real depth of plot. Despite the visual beauty, and that stunning score, I walked out of the theater feeling like I hadn’t seen much of anything at all.
In the end, I give this a B-, which I know may seem rather high for a film I kind of said had no purpose, but I have to remember that despite my high hopes, this is a kid's movie and it does serve that purpose, and as such presents some interesting themes that are woven in at a level a child could understand. I would have loved more depth, but overall this one isn't a waste of time, even if it doesn't really validate the time either. I still think that Oscar will bite here, handing this an Animated Film nomination, but I don't see this having a shot at a win.