There is something warm and alive with stop-motion animation that computer graphics still cannot match. It isn’t just the quality and richness of the light. It isn’t just the movement and solidity of the objects. It is an undefinable human touch, the imperfections, that make it feel real, even with the lack of perfect lip sync.
Boxtrolls is full of wonder and invention and was put to screen by a group of fairly untried talent (on this scale) for writing and directing. Perhaps that is why it was also so willing to buck convention and tell the story they did. And quite the story it is, even in its familiarity and, at times, obvious direction.
The only thing that kept Boxtrolls from being a perfect flick for me, and it was close, were a couple of voice performances. One was distracting and one was, well, distracting in a different way. Ayoade (IT Crowd, The Double) played an hysterically off-beat, existential character, as he often does. Unfortunately, I could only see him, the human, every time his voice came from the screen. He is so distinctive that I just couldn’t stop seeing him. It caused me to drop out of the story more than a few times. On the other hand, Fanning (Maleficent) as the lone female lead became her own challenge. Her voice, and even a bit of the animation, came across as a 40 yr old woman in the body of a kid. I can’t say whether it was the timbre of her voice or something else, but it was decidedly off.
The rest of the voice cast were wonderful. Wright (Bran in Game of Thrones) as the main lead manages to be completely guileless and driven at the same time. Harris (Pompeii) and Morgan (Rio 2) fill in the world with a couple of important, off-beat characters. But it is Kingsley (Ender’s Game) that steals the darker half of the show. Kingsley, in fact, won an Annie for his voice work, and deservedly so. He creates a delightful cross between the Mad Hatter, Oliver’s Fagin, and the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It is a twisted and entertaining experience. A number of other known actors create the jibberish for the trolls with great joy and verve.
As a final gift, and elevation for the story, the end and coda of Boxtrolls rivals the ending of the much ballyhooed, The Lego Movie. They tackle some similar ideas, but to very different purposes. Boxtrolls beats Lego out on impact in guts and execution of that moment. For that alone, the movie is worth seeing.
Boxtrolls isn’t perfect. I wish it were. But if you loved ParaNorman, Coraline, Nightmare Before Christmas, or even the much less perfect Flushed Away, you will appreciate this latest Laika installment on multiple levels. I appreciate how far computer animation has come, but even the lush landscapes of How to Train Your Dragon 2 feel sterile next to this rich form of the art. And, honestly, the story was willing to go to places most films for younger audiences just won’t anymore. That raised its estimation for me as well.