Review: The Boxtrolls

The BoxTrolls - NZ DadsGreat holiday fare and fantastic father’s story all in one. The British-made movie based on the book “Here be Monsters” follows the story of “Eggs,” a young baby picked up by Boxtrolls, apparently abandoned by his father and mother. He grows in a wonderful underground world where trolls gather various items for re-use. The trolls all wear boxes and their name comes from the box they wear. Hence “Fish” wearing a fish box, (but suspiciously looking like a tie,) is Eggs’ carer, and Egg is named for the box of eggs he wears. The trolls have their own language, a great sense of humour and a strong sense of community.

Unfortunately their world is under threat from Archibald Snatcher, a pest controller who wants to gain a place with the ruling council. Snatcher, and his team of philosophical underlings, promise to capture and kill all the boxtrolls. Eggs joins forces with the belligerent daughter of the mayor, Winnie, and together they discover the secret of the boxtrolls and the dreadful events that happened oh-so-many years ago.

The main theme of the film centres on the role of fatherhood. It juxtaposes the distant and dismissive fathering of the mayor, Portly-Rind, with the father-like relationship of the boxtrolls to Eggs, especially the caring relationship between Eggs and Fish. It looks at the role of fathering in the development of children and how a male father figure, or lack-thereof, influences the character of the child. The message it sends to children is a positive one about how a father’s love is important to your life. For fathers, there is an excellent lesson about the need to engage with your children. Unfortunately, there is very little shown of Winnie’s mother, a waste of Toni Collette’s talent in my opinion.

It’s also good to see a movie where the female lead, Winnie, is a very strong and independent female without compromise. She is not afraid to assert herself or subvert herself for anyone. And it is great to see her interact with the somewhat naive Eggs. This is not to say that Eggs is a weak male. Both Eggs and Winnie have moments of vulnerability and strength, they make excellent role models for children. I like seeing well developed and real characters. I wish I could say the same for the adults. With one or two exceptions the adults are buffoons, self-obsessed and driven by their desires; that’s expected for a children’s movie and a comedy at that, but disappointing because it’s a clichéd portrayal of adults.

Despite that, the movie is thoroughly enjoyable. The voice acting is a treat, with excellent performances from Ben Kingsley as Snatcher and Elle Fanning as Winnie. But my favourite performances came from the three bumbling henchmen of Snatcher. Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost, and Tracy Morgan provide subtle and subversive counterpoints to the bombastic nastiness of the villain. It is well worth the wait at the end of the film to watch Frost and Ayoade discuss the nature of the universe.

The direction and talent of the production team is fantastic. The film has a great steam-punk sensibility, from the underground machinations of the boxtrolls, to the clothes designs and props of the townspeople. The flowing set design reminds me a bit of Michael Leunig’s free-flowing style. The set action pieces move at a cracking pace without sacrificing character development.

The end of the movie shows reunions and awakenings of all sorts. The mayor learns to appreciate his daughter, and as for young Eggs….well, that would be spoiling the movie. I thoroughly recommend this film to all ages.

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