DUBUQUE — This year, the unthinkable happened: for the first time in nine years, Pixar isn’t releasing a movie. So, the field is wide open for another animated film to dominate the year. So far, we’ve already seen the “Lego Movie” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” which will provide an exciting race for the Best Animated Feature Oscar this year. “The Boxtrolls” won’t be as ubiquitous, but a nomination is certainly within reach for this one.
In the town of Cheesebridge, the creatures known as Boxtrolls roam the night hunting for things that they use to build, invent, and such. One night, a boy is taken from Cheesebridge and grows up living with the Boxtrolls. The boy, named Eggs because his box has eggs on the front, identifies as one of them until a turn of events changes his life, and Cheesebridge, forever. However, as is usually the case with this kind of films, a dastardly villain makes a living by hunting down boxtrolls, but there’s something much more nefarious to come…
Giving away too much of the plot would be criminal because one of the joys of “The Boxtrolls” is how complex the film actually is. The film certainly adheres to some of the conventions of family animated movies, but the twists and turns are what help make it special.
Elsewhere, the film’s rewards are numerous. The cast is great, especially Ben Kingsley as the slimy villain, and a big twist involving his character is a major treat. The boxtrolls are quite the invention. Despite communicating in a manner that resembles a less decipherable Gollum, they’re remarkably expressive and their personalities shine through. Another bonus is that fact that Cheesebridge is a delightfully eccentric town, where the corrupt leaders are more preoccupied with eating cheese than fixing problems, and the place is clearly divided between the upper class and lower classes. Plus, most of them speak in British accents!
However, the film must be seen for its animation. The level of complexity and technical accomplishment can’t be understated. The facial expressions, the background information, the fluidity are all remarkable, and reinforces the power that stop-motion animation holds. Laika, the same studio that did “Coraline” and “Paranorman,” are a blessing to an animated landscape dominated by CGI. More than 20 years after “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” there’s still a special place for stop-motion animation. (Be sure to stick around as the film provides a glimpse of how much time and effort it takes to make stop-motion animation.)
“The Boxtrolls” won’t win Best Animated Feature. It doesn’t have the same resonance that the “Lego Movie” and “HTTYD 2” achieved. Still, it’s a good way to spend your time away from the chilly weather. Be sure to stay tuned: cold weather is only a sign that Oscar season is upon us, so keep your eyes peeled!