Still from The Boxtrolls.

The Boxtrolls Not Great For Children (Nor for Parents for that Matter)

This British animated feature is too dark and scary for children, yet not sophisticated enough for adults.

Just who is the intended audience for The Boxtrolls? The question is rhetorical, but it seems this British animated feature is too dark and scary for children, yet not sophisticated enough for adults.

Of course, demographics and marketing don’t impact the quality of the film itself, but this stop-motion adaptation of the Alan Snow’s novel Here Be Monsters generally lacks the narrative freshness and charm to supplement its visual ambition.

The story focuses on the title characters, who have earned reputations as dangerous pests for their nocturnal thievery of food and spare parts from the streets of Cheesebridge, a 19th century British township where ownership of cheese somehow equates to social status.

At any rate, the Boxtrolls live beneath the town, and among them is an orphaned boy called Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright) who likewise wears a box that functions like a turtle shell. Eggs manages to befriend a girl (Elle Fanning) who agrees to help his cause despite coming from an aristocratic family.

That primary cause is stopping the villainous Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), a high-society wannabe whose henchmen are spreading rumors about the Boxtrolls and trying to eradicate them by any means necessary for his own personal gain.

Animation buffs should have some fun with the meticulously crafted visual approach, which combines traditional Claymation techniques with computer technology. Yet unlike Coraline and Paranorman, its two predecessors from the Laika animation studio, The Boxtrolls doesn’t have the same level of witty or inventive storytelling to match.

Children might enjoy some of the colorful drawings and quirky characters, along with easily digested lessons about acceptance, teamwork, courage, and celebrating differences. They might have some difficulty with some of the more complex themes and the thicker accents, even if the voice cast — which includes Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan and Toni Collette — conveys the appropriate levels of menace and charisma.

Everybody loves an underdog story about an outcast who overcomes obstacles to become a leader, but in trying to expand upon the source material, the film loses its focus and aims toward mainstream mayhem instead of embracing the peculiarity of the characters and their fantasy world.

More than anything, The Boxtrolls seems to be more about creating atmosphere than having fun. And that’s a problem about which humans and trolls can agree.

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