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.

 

 

 

 

 

Frankenweenie

“Frankenweenie” is classic Tim Burton—weird and goofy. It riffs on the original “Frankenstein” movie as well as several others films.

Victor Frankenstein is a schoolboy in the town of New Holland, which looks amazingly like the town in “Edward Scissorhands.” Except in “Frankenweenie,” the houses are not pastel-colored, they are in black-and-white.

Victor’s science teacher, who looks like a character from a Don Martin cartoon in Mad magazine, demonstrates how electrical current can cause a dead frog’s legs to move. This inspires Victor to exhume his dog Sparky, recently killed when hit by a car, and use lightning to reanimate him.

When Victor’s friend Andrew, an Igor lookalike, spreads word of Victor’s success, the other kids in town then reanimate their deceased pets and havoc ensues.

“Frankenweenie” exceeds expectations with its clever characters, terrific animation, a decent story and a great sense of humor. The energy and tempo are more consistent here than in Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Corpse Bride.”

Unlike Burton’s previous stop-motion animated films, “Frankenweenie” is not a musical. The soundtrack is by Burton’s longtime music man, Danny Elfman.

Among favorite elements of “Frankenweenie” is Victor’s attic which functions as his lab, not unlike Dr. Frankenstein’s in the 1931 classic film. Also, some of the New Holland townsfolk look like they stepped directly out of a Gary Larson “Far Side” comic panel. The opening scene with Victor showing a movie he made (starring Sparky) is priceless. The science teacher’s response when a parents’ group attempts to chastise him is a wonderful piece of writing.

“Frankenweenie” is rated PG. Preschoolers will be bored by the movie, but most kids will, I think, like it. Adults who appreciate Tim Burton’s sensibilities will love it.

Personal note: I saw “Frankenweenie” less than 24 hours after my own dog died. I was concerned about seeing a movie about a dog being killed. But “Frankenweenie” entertained me and actually lifted my spirits a bit. It’s been a tough week. I miss my dear dachshund Princess. But I look forward to seeing “Frankenweenie” again soon.