Laika – the Portland-based studio that specializes in a unique hybridization of stop-motion and computer animation – manages to draw ever-growing mountains of praise with every new feature they release, and not without good reason. Though geared primarily towards children, they never coddle their young audience, choosing stories that aren't afraid of being a little scary, a little dark, and even a little morbid. It's also impossible not to marvel at the studio's meticulous hand-made process, which has even become the lynchpin of their marketing identity.
Based on the book Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow, The Boxtrolls tells the story of an orphan boy raised beneath the town of Cheesebridge by a race of impish creatures clothed in discarded boxes. What they lack in cuddliness they make up for in ingenuity, tinkering with discarded objects and repurposing them into whatever they may find useful or amusing.
They have to do their scavenging under cover of darkness, lest they risk capture by the duplicitous Boxtroll exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsely), appropriately designed in grotesque caricature like all of Laika's antagonists. In order to locate and liberate his kidnapped Boxtroll family, the boy (Isaac-Hempstead Wright) beseeches a well-to-do girl (Elle Fanning) to help him navigate the social conventions of the surface world and alert the townsfolk to Snatcher's nefarious plot. Oh, if only the adults in kids' movies actually listened to kids (which, of course, they never do)!
Now, there can be no questioning the talent of the craftsmen and women at Laika: Their blend of computer-aided facial animation and traditional stop-motion method is as seamless as ever, while the miniature sets and costumes never fail to amaze with their maddening detail. And there can be no questioning their mischievous sense of humour, which runs the gamut here from a Cracker Barrel full of cheesy puns (literally, puns about cheese) to [MILD SPOILER] the most 'gut-bustingly' funny on-screen death I've seen in a while!
What isn't above questioning is their grasp of dramatic substance and form. What Laika needs to truly take its game to the next level is a writing team capable of refining their scripts into a thematically unified package.
**1/2 out of ****