The Boxtrolls Parent Review
The manner in which this movie's message to not be fearful of those we don't understand is delivered makes it rarely fun, often creepy and bordering on inappropriate for its intended audience.
In the town of Cheesebridge there is a precious commodity that offers a distraction from the routines of the day. Yes, you probably guessed that it’s cheese. Those who are fortunate enough to have access to the cultured curds wear white hats and speak with a sophisticated English accent. Those who only yearn for a taste have the diction of a chimney sweep. Thankfully there is a common enemy in this little village that, if nothing else, provides one reason for these two groups to work together.
Roaming amongst the sewers of Cheesebridge are the Boxtrolls. These little green creatures, that wear cardboard boxes to cover their bodies, are blamed for everything that goes wrong, including the gruesome accusation of stealing babies and eating them. In reality the Boxtrolls are relatively innocuous and best described as packrats. They eat insects and forage among the trash and forgotten refuse on the streets looking for any objects they can turn into an array of mechanical devices. The kidnapping claims are all attributable to the one distinctly different member of their community. “Eggs” (they are named after the label on the box they wear) is a human boy who was raised by the trolls. Coming of age, he is about to recognize his appearance has more in common with those above ground than those who dwell below.
Still, there is another reason why the Boxtrolls have such a poor reputation. Archibald Snatcher (voice of Ben Kingsley) has been maligning them unceasingly (for reasons revealed in a complex back-story). A societal parasite, Snatchert would do anything to win the right to join the elite little group that sit at the cheese-tasting table. Using this bad publicity to convince Lord Portley-Rind (voice of Jared Harris) that the vermin must be exterminated, Snatchert has offered his pest control services in exchange for coveted a white hat.
Now it’s up to Eggs (voice of Isaac Hempstead Wright) to be the bridge between humans and trolls, and somehow broker a peace accord. When he meets Lord Portley-Rind’s precocious daughter Winnie (voice of Elle Fanning), he assumes he has a direct link to the most powerful man in town. However Eggs soon discovers that just because someone has a father doesn’t mean they have their father’s ear. And in Winnie’s case it appears Lord Portley’s is more intent on collecting cheese than on raising a child.
The needlessly complex setup puts in motion a simple story we’ve seen time and time again. The enemy isn’t the weird little beings clothed in cardboard, but instead it’s the ambitious social climber. Attempting to help young audiences who may not see this obvious irony, Snatcher’s henchmen voice their confusion about whether or not they are the good guys or bad guys, and discuss the philosophy surrounding the “duality of good and evil.” (I suspect eight-year-olds will be neither entertained nor interested.)
The plot and visuals combine to form a darker picture (both literally and metaphorically) than other animations targeting youngsters. Many scenes place characters, especially the Boxtrolls, in peril. We see some of them being captured and some being crushed by a huge machine. (You can offer some reassurance to young viewers that they are not dead). Violence also extends to a mentally deranged human that is seen suspended upside down. His captor explains his brains are mixed up after hanging there for decades. (A moment of torture in a cartoon for children? Such funny stuff…) And you may want to hide the toaster for a week or two after a couple of “comedic” depictions of characters sticking metal objects into the appliance and being electrocuted.
Added to these already questionable portrayals are a few unusual things about Snatcher. First, he has a cheese allergy, which he chooses to ignore even though it makes his face and body swell grotesquely. And he has a penchant for frequently cross-dressing as a conniving woman.
Sadly, even the “good” characters are tough to like. Lord Portley is a dud of a father, his daughter is a brat, and the hero Eggs doesn’t get enough script development to leave us caring about him one way or the other. And then there are the Boxtrolls—a cross between the Rock Trolls in Frozen and the minions in Despicable Me. They can only utter nonsense sounds while they scurry about in their clever little mechanical universe. However, unlike their aforementioned yellow cousins, these trolls are somewhat ugly and their lack of speech makes it difficult to engender the same affection for them that we felt toward Frozen‘s singing forest critters.
In the end this movie is determined to convince the residents of Cheesebridge (and the audience of course) that we needn’t be fearful of those who we don’t understand. A worthy cause perhaps, yet the ham-fisted manner in which this moral message is delivered makes The Boxtrolls rarely fun, often creepy and bordering on inappropriate for its intended audience. Although the production boasts slick animation, that alone may not be enough to compete against all the other films trolling for you children’s attention.Directed by Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi. Starring Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning. Running time: 100 minutes. Theatrical release September 26, 2014. Updated May 21, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in The Boxtrolls here.
The Boxtrolls Parents Guide
What groups or demographics do you think the Boxtrolls may represent in our society? Who do Lord Portley-Rind and Snatcher represent? What might the cheese and the white hat represent?
What class distinctions exist in this movie? How does the time period justify those class lines? Do these distinctions still exist where you live?
The Boxtrolls movie is based on the children’s novel Here Be Monster by Alan Snow.