The Boxtrolls

 

The Boxtrolls is the best looking animated film to hit theaters in years. A combination of labor-intensive stop action filming and post-production CGI has brought forth a movie that’s filled with images of characters and settings that are brilliant in every sense of the word.

We are 20+ years into the Golden Age of Animation, which began with Disney megahit musicals (Aladdin, Lion King), gathered momentum with Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas and hit light speed with Pixar’s Toy Story. After those fallow decades when, because of TV’s less demanding visual needs, animators did their work on the cheap, studios began to deliver strong product and earned huge returns.

As has been shown over and over during this Golden Age, good looks and technical advances help the cause, but ultimate success still rests on a good story. Strong voice acting helps as well. The Boxtrolls hits the mark on all counts.

Boxtrolls are weird little creatures who live beneath the village of Cheesebridge. They come out at night and salvage junk to use in their underground lair. Because they wear boxes (and can hide within them, like a turtle in a shell), they are called boxtrolls. They may remind you in some ways of the minions in the Despicable Me movies.

A young boy called Egg (voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright) mysteriously appears among the boxtrolls who raise him as one of their own. Egg leads the boxtrolls to their confrontation with Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) who is the town’s boxtroll exterminator.

Snatcher’s burning desire is to share in a cheese tasting with the town’s elite. He has, however, a cheese allergy and his physical reactions are displayed with hilarious effects.

Winnie Portley-Rind (Elle Fanning), daughter of cheese connoisseur and leading citizen Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), helps Egg expose the true nature of Snatcher’s work and reveal the good side of the boxtrolls. Other voice talents include Nick Frost, Simon Pegg and Tracy Morgan.

The Boxtrolls, co-directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, comes from the Laika production company, the outfit that produced Coraline and ParaNorman.

For fans of animated film, The Boxtrolls is a “must see.” All the creative work comes together beautifully in a movie that is filled with delights. Happily, the technology does not overwhelm the storytelling but, instead, enhances it. I’ll say it again: Brilliant in every sense of the word.

 

 

 

 

 

ParaNorman

In the wake of the first few Pixar hits, many studios and production houses took shots at making animated movies. Dreamworks succeeded with the “Shrek” films, but others had problems.

In the last 15 or so years, we have seen tons of animated films that get a lot of things right, but fall short on that one key element: a good story.

“ParaNorman,” sadly, falls into that category. Like many of its animated brethren, it has a distinctive look, amusing characters and funny lines. But the plot is just not that good.

Norman is a kid who has that sixth sense: he can see and communicate with dead people. One of the deceased citizens of his small town shares information that leads him to try to break a centuries-old witch’s curse. Getting to that result is a roundabout cinematic journey.

“ParaNorman” looks great. It was shot in stop-motion 3-D by the same studio that made 2009’s “Coraline.” But here is the big difference: “Coraline” was based on a successful Neil Gaiman novel; “ParaNorman,” is an original screenplay, written by co-director Chris Butler.

For fans of stop-motion animation (myself included), “ParaNorman” is a must-see. For everybody else, it’s a maybe. There are some parts of the movie that may frighten younger children, but you know your kids better that I do. Parental guidance is suggested.