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Perry’s Previews Movie Review & Filmmaker Interviews: 'The Boxtrolls'

The Boxtrolls is a charming and quirky film that is a bit less dark and suspenseful than LAIKA’s previous animations, but with the same incredible visual effects.

Perry Chen with Producer/Lead Animator, LAIKA CEO Travis Knight at The Boxtrolls Comic-Con media event (photo by Zhu Shen).

The story begins in a Victorian-era town called Cheeseridge, which holds a terrifying secret. Small, blue, humanoid creatures clad in cardboard boxes called boxtrolls emerge from the sewers every night to snatch up children and gobble them up to fuel their mountains of bones and rivers of blood. At least…that’s what the townsfolk believe. In reality, boxtrolls are quirky, mischievous creatures who have never hurt anyone, but the people fear them so much that a company of troll exterminators is created to capture every last boxtroll.

The main character of the story is “Eggs,” (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) a human boy who is lovingly raised by the boxtroll named “Fish.” After many years of watching his friends dragged away by the ruthless exterminator, Snatcher (Sir Ben Kingsley) and his henchmen, and helpless to do anything about it, Eggs finally decides to venture out in broad daylight to find out where Snatcher had taken the boxtrolls. Upon leaving his cave, Eggs encounters and befriends Winnie (Elle Fanning), the curious and slightly macabre daughter of the Lord Portley-Rind; the latter being the scatterbrained, cheese-obsessed mayor as well as Snatcher’s employer.

The Boxtrolls is a charming and quirky film that is a bit less dark and suspenseful as LAIKA’s previous animations, but with the same incredible visual effects. Personally, I feel that “The Boxtrolls” is a very creative and original film, unlike many of the recycled plots that are common in many animation films nowadays. To make such expressive faces and body language takes thousands of hours and countless assembling and props requires an unimaginable amount of painstaking effort, especially by the lead animator and producer Travis Knight, who is also the CEO of LAIKA Animation Studio.

I had the great privilege of interviewing Knight during the 2014 San Diego Comic Con for the second time, after we met at the Paranorman press junket in 2012. As the lead animator of this film, Travis knows everything about how to breathe life into his four-inch tall silicone puppets. Animating stop-motion is a tremendous challenge on both the body and the mind. Knight compares the mental process of animating to a game of chess. For him, the most difficult part of his job is animating the “subtle, sophisticated, small nuances” that make them seem like they are living, breathing beings. Travis even shared a fact that happened behind the scenes that he had never told anyone else before.  “I sliced my finger with an x-acto blade, because I was animating the puppets,” he revealed. “The blood kinda dripped into the cobblestones, and…I know exactly where to look; you can see my blood on the set.”

Additionally, I was able to get a few comments from Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, the co-directors of The Boxtrolls at Comic-Con. The idea of the film was based on Alan Snow’s novel Here be Monsters. “[Snow] had such a fantastic, imaginative world that he created in that book that we wanted to do everything we could to recreate that feeling and that vibe,” explained Annable. “It’s not quite as scary as the other films that we did.” A little known fact about the crew of The Boxtrolls is that over 3000 donuts were eaten over the course of making the film. “Every Friday was ‘Donut Day,’” Stacchi explained. “You can imagine, nobody was ever sick on ‘Donut Day.’”

Finally, I got a scoop from Academy Award winner Sir Ben Kingsley, who voiced the power-hungry antagonist, Snatcher. “I recorded lying down, so the body is as relaxed as possible to allow all of those changes in your voice to come out. If you’re tense in any way, [your voice] is the first thing that tenses up.” After interviewing him, my mom was very excited to get to meet him, because she is a big fan of his most famous role in “Ghandi,” and loved his work in Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo.”

I recommend this movie to kids seven and up. “The Boxtrolls” is a great movie for children and adults alike. Children would enjoy the slapstick and situational humor, while adults may understand the broad themes of desires for power and ethics. I give LAIKA’s “The Boxtrolls” 4 starfish, it’s “Perrific!”

Moral: It’s easy to hate what you don’t understand.  It takes courage to be different.

I wish to thank Arclight La Jolla for comps for the review, as I was unable to attend the regular press screening scheduled during school time.