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Book Review: The Art of The Boxtrolls

Fred Patten looks at the richly detailed coffee-table art book celebrating LAIKA’s latest animated feature.

 

The Art of The Boxtrolls, by Philip Brotherton.  Preface by Travis Knight.  Foreword by Anthony Stacchi.

San Francisco, Chronicle Books, September 2014, hardcover $40.00 (160 pages), Kindle $16.19.

I have said it before, but if you liked LAIKA’s The Boxtrolls movie, you really have to get Chronicle Books’ The Art of The Boxtrolls!

Other coffee-table “the art of” books have documented most American animated theatrical features of the past decade.  Many of them have included preliminary character designs of the principal characters, which are always fascinating to the fans of those movies.  But The Boxtrolls is notable for the number of unidentified supporting characters included.  There are over a dozen Boxtrolls running around, but other than Fish, Eggs’ best friend, are any of them named (unless you saw the trailer)?  But in The Art of The Boxtrolls, they are all individually named and shown!  Not only Fish, Shoe, Sparky, Oil Can, and Sweets, but also Wheels, Bucket, Fragile, and fourteen others.  There’s also the Cheese Guild (the council of White Hat cheese connoisseurs) who run the city of Cheesebridge; are any of them named, including the Mayor of Cheesebridge, Winnie’s father?  This book identifies them:  not only Lord Portley-Rind, Winnie’s father, but Sir Langsdale, Sir Broderick, Old Brie, and wheelchair-bound Boulanger.  There are also the One-Man Band, Cheshire the major-domo, the photographer, the barman, and other incidental characters. 

Travis Knight, animation studio LAIKA’s president and CEO, explains that the studio’s first two stop-motion features, Coraline (2009) and ParaNorman (2012), were both set in the modern world.  For their third movie, they wanted a period setting.  Here Be Monsters!, a children’s fantasy vaguely set in Victorian England with inhuman but appealing “monsters,” was perfect.  The Art of The Boxtrolls is frank in describing the differences between the movie and the book upon which it is based.  “It’s no surprise that The Boxtrolls movie is not a literal adaptation of the Here Be Monsters! book [by Alan Snow].  At 529 pages, the book is a children’s tome rife with characters and story lines enough to fill several motion pictures.”  (p. 13).  Among the notable differences:  the novel’s protagonist Arthur has been renamed Eggs, taken from the box that he wears as a Boxtroll.  The city of Ratbridge has been renamed Cheesebridge to emphasize the gourmet cheeses that are the movie’s Macguffin.  The city’s Cheese Guild aristocracy idolize them, and the commoner Snatcher is determined to crash the Guild to eat its rare cheeses, despite his violent allergy to all cheeses!  Indeed, the rats and their piratical subplot are missing from the movie altogether, despite the novel’s label of “The Ratbridge Chronicles, Volume 1”.   (But Snow’s novel was published in 2006, and there is no sign of Volume 2 yet.)

The Art of The Boxtrolls is similar in format to the other “art of” books.  The book is divided into “Roaming the Streets,” showing the city of Cheesebridge; “The World Below,” showing the Boxtrolls’ home beneath the streets; “Snatcher’s Realm,” showing the villainous Red Hat Archibald Snatcher’s assistants, the sadistic Gristle and the naïve Trout and Pickles, and Snatcher’s factory and mechanical devices; and “Life at the Top,” showing texture, fashion, and hair design, coloring, and “over fifty sizes, shapes, and styles of cheese, along with a dozen varying colors, were mixed and matched.”

Each piece of art is signed by its artist; Graham Annable, Mary Blankenburg, Michel Breton, Dan Casey, Peter Chan, Alan Cook, Nicolas de Crécy, David Feiss, August Hall, Stephane Halleux, Josh Holtsclaw, Joe Kortum, Dan Krall, Paul Lasaine, Tom McClure, Sylvain Marc, Annette Marnat, Shain Prigmore, Lou Romano, Gianna Ruggiero, Anthony Stacchi, and others.  Since LAIKA relies primarily on stop-motion photography of miniature models rather than on computer graphics, there are also identified photographs of director of photography John Ashlee, miniature lighting engineer Matt DeLeu, rigging supervisor Ollie Jones, and others at work.

Brotherton’s text is broken with many quotes by the feature’s production staff and its voice actors.  “The Boxtrolls is a hierarchial story about the people from below and the people above and a man who wants to climb the social ladder.  A vertical city just made sense.”  -- [director] Anthony Stacchi” (p. 23)  “Snatcher’s need to remind people that there is a deadly enemy and that he’s the only person to keep them safe has huge political echoes.  The demonization of a whole group of people that don’t do anybody any harm is pure political manipulation.  They sow discord to make themselves grander.  It’s classic.” –Sir Ben Kingsley, the voice of Snatcher” (p. 94)

The Art of The Boxtrolls is by Philip Brotherton, the art director at LAIKA, with a preface by Travis Knight, LAIKA’s president, CEO and the feature’s producer and lead animator, and a foreword by the feature’s director, Anthony Stacchi.  So, is LAIKA’s fourth movie going to focus upon this novel’s nautical-rat subplot that was omitted from The Boxtrolls?  Nope!  It has been announced as Wildwood, based upon a 2011 Young Adult fantasy novel by Colin Meloy, set in a fantasy world adjacent to Portland, Oregon, LAIKA’s home ground.  After Wildwood will come Goblins; from the art sample, not based on anything by Brian Froud.  Apparently LAIKA is finished with Here Be Monsters!

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Fred Patten has been a fan of animation since the first theatrical rerelease of Pinocchio (1945).  He co-founded the first American fan club for Japanese anime in 1977, and was awarded the Comic-Con International's Inkpot Award in 1980 for introducing anime to American fandom.  He began writing about anime for Animation World Magazine since its #5, August 1996.  A major stroke in 2005 sidelined him for several years, but now he is back. He can be reached at fredpatten@earthlink.net (link sends e-mail).

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