Monday, September 22, 2014

Animation heaven: Graham Annable/Anthony Stacchi's THE BOXTROLLS hits theaters

Real imagination in animation is wondrous and something we actually get all too seldom. Sure, there are plenty of OK animated films, but it takes one as rare and original as THE BOXTROLLS to point up what we've been missing. In it, the co-writers (Irene Brignull and Adam Pava, from the novel by Alan Snow titled Here Be Monsters!) and co-directors (Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, shown below at ComicCon, with Mr. Stacchi on the left) join forces to create a world we've never experienced -- in a style we've not seen in quite this same manner.

While the movie may remind you, stylistically at times, of both Coraline and ParaNorman, it possesses its own special look and color palette. Best of all, it creates its own place and time and then plops you down in the middle of this and almost immediately makes you feel at home as a part of it.

The story imagines a rather European city set back in time (think Louis Quinze or some such) in which the citizens are divided into the rich and poor, and in which a race of trolls have taken to living underground and hiding in boxes -- hence the movie's title. A nasty exterminator -- who has convinced the citizens that these trolls are dangerous, blood-letting monsters out to steal all their children -- has vowed to destroy the trolls.

Of course, the BoxTrolls are anything but dangerous, which we quickly learn, via our hero, Eggs, a young boy (below, right) who has been raised by the trolls (each of whom bears the name of the box or carton that he wears) and Winnie (below, left), the daughter of the town's leading citizen -- who join forces to educate the citizenry and stop the trolls' destruction.

Shot in the kind of 3D that proves less in your face than made to fill the dimensions around the nifty animation, bringing everything to gorgeous, sometimes wacky life, the movie is very nearly non-stop action and fun -- with a smart range of subsidiary characters aimed at amusing both the adults and kids.

The voice cast is sterling, too: Sir Ben Kingsley, Elle Fanning, Isaac Hempstead Wright and Jared Harris voice the leads, with the funny supporting roles taken by Nick Frost, Simon Pegg and Richard Ayoade.

As with so many movies, animated or otherwise, it's the details that count, and here two of them -- cheese and white hats -- stand out, providing humor, symbolism and resonance to the story.  In addition, the running commentary by two of the villain's henchmen concerning philosophy, free will and whether they represent good or evil offers some prime laughter for the older set.

So don't fret, should you have to escort a youngster to the movies in the weeks to come: The BoxTrolls will offer a wicked good time for you both. Not coincidentally, the film also looks to be the front-runner for this year's animation "Oscar." From Focus Features and running 96 minutes, it opens this Friday nationwide.

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