Movie a Day Blog has a special admiration for the Laika animation studio in Portland, OR. They do, in my opinion, the best stop-motion animation in today’s marketplace, although there’s plenty of growing competition.

THE BOXTROLLS (2014, Netflix) isn’t one of their best movies — I personally prefer CORALINE (2009) and PARANORMAN (2012, Movie a Day 8/9/12) for superb stop-motion and characterization, but at least BOXTROLLS tries to break new ground.

It’s based on a children’s novel called “Here Be Monsters” by Alan Snow, and its inventive plot has a group of boxy creatures who live in, under and around a Victorian city raising a human boy as one of their own. Named Eggs in honor of his personalized box, he stays comfortingly in the world where he’s the tallest and the smartest until, of course, a villain threatens his very existence.

The best animation is often motivated by the stories that have the simplest conflicts and challenges, because it takes the pressure off narrative and allows the art to flourish. THE BOXTROLLS fits comfortably into that tradition, with the personal journey of acceptance that Eggs undergoes; I’m avoiding all the cooking puns that await a setup like that.

The rapid advancement in computer assistance to stop motion animation makes the movement so blindingly fast that it’s easy to forget these films continue to be made frame by frame, with minute adjustments done by hand, or increasingly, in the software.

Laika has pioneered a style that is slick on its glossy surfaces, but still heartfelt in the emotion its model figures and facial expressions evoke. THE BOXTROLLS doesn’t rise to the sublime level of CORALINE, Laika’s masterpiece to date, or even to the classic outsider tale of the supernaturally attuned PARANORMAN, but I found it the most original animated feature nominated for this year’s Oscar.

The story gets lost along the way, but not without giving Ben Kingsley the opportunity to show why he’s one of the most versatile actors around. As Archibald Snatcher, the dreaded and dedicated Grim Reaper of Boxtrolls, Kingsley lets go with the best villainous vocals I’ve heard in  years.

His henchmen, voiced by Tracy Morgan, Richard Ayoade and Nick Frost, give comedic support, but Kingsley doesn’t need any help. He dominates the film, possibly to the detriment of the storytelling.

THE BOXTROLLS wasn’t destined to win an Academy Award this year, not going up against the rejuvenated Disney Animation Studios, and maybe it’s just as well. As clever and whimsical as it was, it never got bigger than its initial premise.

At some point in the near future Laika will find the right story for their richly talented team of stop motion artists, and the results will blow everyone else in the animation universe away. I can’t wait.





Comments are closed