Unwrapping The Boxtrolls, A Blu-ray/DVD Review

21 Jan

By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
and James Shaw (The Wind up Geek)

Ed: I swear, The Boxtrolls must be related to the Jawas from Star Wars somehow. Whether by strange coincidence or by some cosmic decree, these tinkerers in both galaxies are being given a bum rap by the humans they want to hide from. Even when James and I are watching this movie again, which released January 20th, I still can’t shake that thought.

But when it comes to the steampunk technology showcase in what these trolls can build, I’m impressed! That type of bonding skill also shows in the fellowship developed when a baby human is unceremoniously dumped into their lair, only to grow up to become a wild child.

James: To call them that, Ed, is a little unfair to the boxtrolls. Just because they eat worms and beetles as part of their diet doesn’t make them unsophisticated. Okay, it does, but for those who are considered sophisticated, they have their own faults.

Lord Portley-Rind (snobbishly played by Jared Harris), head of the town’s council and one of the White Hats (An exclusive society) is failing as a father figure to his daughter Winnie (Elle Fanning). At least the Boxtrolls are raising Eggs (the orphaned boy) in a family unit, Lord Portley-Rind is more concerned about eating cheese with his fellow White Hats than noticing what his daughter gets up to. But as wrong as it is, I’m rather envious of Portley-Rind’s group. I wouldn’t mind a good party with a few friends around a table of the world’s best cheeses.

E:  And I’m sure James would fit right in that particular class of scum and villainy that exists in this portmanteau known as Cheesebridge, but we’re not here to talk about how he could take over Ben Kingsley’s role as Archibald Snatcher, the cheese-loving pot-belly miscreant. I have to love how the behind-the-scenes “Voicing the Boxtrolls” featurette explains how Kingsley got into the role: to have the voice come from the bottom up, he was laid out in luxury, upon a posh leather chair while reading his lines. I’m sure my writing partner would enjoy that.


J: The real villain of this film is not with the White Hats, although they are neglectful of the most important things in life. No, the real villain is Snatcher, a man born of the working class but has always aspired to be something that the class-ruled society won’t allow. This is a villain you can sympathize with, at least in the first half of the movie. His reasons for meanness towards the Boxtrolls could almost be understood. Kingsley does gives his best yet again and creates a completely new persona, one that I have not seen in his films.

E: Perhaps the most interesting un-pairing is that of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost playing characters who rarely interact with each other. Pegg voices Eggs’ nearly insane father and Frost is Mr. Trout, a manservant for Snatcher. I’m not sure if directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi intentionally wanted to keep them apart, but whatever their plans were, giving them separate roles worked. I’m sure there’s an explanation buried in the director’s commentary somewhere, to which I’m partially still listening to at the time of writing. A bit of background is as to how the movie was developed is offered, but there’s no revealing movie trivia yet.

J: I rather enjoyed the pairing of Mr. Trout and Mr. Pickles (Richard Ayoade). It was a fresh character-driven comedy that at times felt like it was improvised. Expect the two of them to have their own adventures on direct releases. I know a good thing when I see it.

I’m amused about their philosophical conversations about good guys and bad guys and where they fitted into the grand scheme of things. It reminded of the now famous “Nazis” sketch from That Mitchell and Webb Look, priceless.

E: Yeah, but unless audiences are well versed in the British entertainment scene, all of those references will whoosh past anyone’s head. Kids will not get it, and nor will I. Although, I’m glad the director’s commentary talked about how they managed to preserve this banter as the end credits were scrolling.

In what I found appealing about this movie is the warped sense of surrealism that was artistically infused into this movie. With the video release, I found myself appreciating this movie a whole lot more. I learned that CGI was used to cover up some details (half the people in the Ballroom dance scene were rendered on the computer) and the technical sophistication to bring this film to life is certainly worth the Oscar nomination this film received. Among the material includes, all new material, “Voicing the Boxtrolls” which supplements the preview “Trolls Right Off the Tongue” that’s available online to build interest for the film. I loved how Steve Blum and Dee Baker played off each other in this short. They had the opportunity to ham it up, playing their characters of Shoe and Fish, on the camera for real. Other new material includes, “Inside the Box,” “The Big Cheese Allergy Snatcher,” “Deconstructing the Dance” and “Think Big: The Mecha Drill.”

Having seen movies like Edison and Leo along with Suicide Shop (Le Magasin des Suicides) at the Victoria Film Festival, I was prepared in what to expect for such a surreal film. But if you’re a kid groomed by movies from PIXAR, Sony Pictures or DreamWorks, a lot of this movie will seem utterly bizarre.


J: I still think there is hope for the children of today. Children inherently love weird tales. They love stories like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG (Roald Dahl), and even Jacob Two Two Meets the Hooded Fang (Mordecai Richler). These were titles I ate up as a child.

E: Uh, James ate it up? Bite my tongue … bite my tongue …

J: I would help you understand that phrase Ed but there is only one kind of eating you’re familiar with and your mind doesn’t take part in that ritual.

Many children cherished these books because they were downright strange, we believed our parents wouldn’t understand what was written on the pages. They were written for us by authors who had that inner child that gave them a unique perspective on the world. Within those books, children could be heard. Children will find the same applies to The Boxtrolls.

The message here is that people should not be ignored because of their age, or their physical appearance or even their role in life. It is what is in their hearts that matter. Now isn’t that a children’s tale that all ages could understand.

3½ Stars out of 5

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