- May 9, 2003
The Boxtrolls roll their cheeses onto Blu-ray with an edition that presents the latest stop-motion creation from Laika in both 2D and 3D. The movie itself is another fairy tale of sorts, this time focusing on the supposed monsters haunting the small town of Cheesebridge. Like ParaNorman, the last offering from Laika, this one is slow to start, but once it gets going, there’s a lot of fun to be had. And like that movie, this one works better in 3D than in 2D. The Blu-ray presents the movie nicely in both iterations, and includes the usual stack of special features, including a commentary by the directors and over an hour of featurettes and animatics. Given the inventiveness of the presentation, it’s no surprise that this was nominated for an Academy Award. In case there are readers who missed this one, I’m happy to Recommend it for rental or purchase.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC, 1080P/MVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DTS, French 5.1 DTS
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 1 Hr. 37 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy, UltraViolet
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 01/20/2015
The Boxtrolls is another unique addition to the growing canon of Laika animations. As with the earlier ones, the current movie is a family friendly story, presented in a world of colorful stop-motion, with seamless CGI augmentation here and there. The new movie continues a theme examined in 2012’s ParaNorman, that of the definition of monsters. Based on Alan Snow’s book Here Be Monsters!, this film focuses on the title creatures, who are initially described as scary monsters but who turn out to be much friendlier than the humans who hunt them. One might even see them as Minions of another species – it’s the same kind of approach. The Boxtrolls don’t really engage in human speech, but their attitudes and gestures tell a lot. And they’re just as inventive as the Minions. The story here is pretty simple, and in fact almost circular. In the town of Cheesebridge, the cunning Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley) scares the town elder “White Hats” into allowing him to round up all the title characters, on the basis that they’ve apparently just kidnapped and killed the little Trubshaw baby. And they do have a little baby in their sewer home, but it doesn’t appear they’re mistreating him at all. Flash forward a few years and we see that most of the Boxtrolls have been themselves kidnapped by Snatcher, causing young boy Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright) to venture back to the surface and learn his real history. Over several encounters between Eggs and the mayor’s daughter Winnie (voiced by Elle Fanning), the truth about the Boxtrolls, the boy and the town itself becomes clear. And we get to see multiple scenes about cheese. It does start off a bit slow – the same issue that happened with ParaNorman. But once it starts to pick up steam, the show becomes increasingly interesting and even charming. I still have some questions about whether this should properly be a PG or a PG-13, but either way, it’s still a fun option for a family movie night. Like ParaNorman, I recommend the 3D version over the 2D version if you have the capability to see it. 3D actually helps with the presentation of stop-motion materials. Based on the simple pleasures of the movie and the stop-motion animation, I’m happy to Recommend it for rental or purchase. Hopefully, there are some people who initially missed it who may read this review and discover it for themselves.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
SPOILERS: Like the earlier Laika films, The Boxtrolls is certainly witty. While compressing and adapting Alan Snow’s book, the writers here have had a field day with all the cheese puns. (“Cheesebridge is a Gouda Place to Live”???) The designers have been pretty faithful to the look of the Boxtrolls from the book, giving us a group of mini-monsters who are actually more scared than scary, and who retreat inside their boxes at the first sign of trouble. Within the first few minutes we’re in their company, it’s clear that these guys are not the true monsters of the story. And it’s not long before the movie starts to point out who the real monster is – namely Mr. Snatcher himself. In one of the more inspired bits, the filmmakers establish that Snatcher, who desperately craves the chance to sample cheeses with the town elders, is devastatingly allergic to cheese. So when he eats even a tiny bit of it, his face swells up to grotesque proportions, thus revealing his, shall we say, inner monster. Which is the point of the story: the Boxtrolls look like little monsters but have good hearts within. Snatcher looks like a normal person, but has the soul of a monster. The Boxtrolls like to work with little mechanics and inventions on their own as builders, but Snatcher abducts them to create a giant doomsday robot. The parallels go on, but I think the point is established. It’s a valid point, and thankfully only stated directly once or twice in the movie.
MORE SPOILERS: For the adults in the family, the movie provides the pleasures of the various personalities who voice the characters here. The biggest surprise here is Ben Kingsley, who gives Snatcher a surprisingly earthy and bass-oriented voice that goes far beyond any of the games he played as the Mandarin. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost both get nice cameos, with Pegg likely getting the better deal as a daffy inventor who keeps repeating the word “Jelly!” And both Isaac Hempstead-Wright and Elle Fanning are clearly enjoying their lead roles – particularly Fanning in various moments where Winnie is having a bit too much fun with the potential ghastliness of the sewer creatures.
FINAL SPOILERS: The one real question here is whether or not The Boxtrolls can be considered a proper PG movie or a proper PG-13 movie. The same question hung over ParaNorman. It’s a tough one. Overall, the movie is probably correctly slated as PG – there are multiple threats of real violence and danger to all the characters, and some moments where we are led to believe that the worst has happened. But the movie repeatedly resolves these moments with a disarming sweetness as we find out how the characters saved themselves or outwitted Snatcher. And yet, there really is an air of menace that hangs over this movie – possibly from the gloomy settings, possibly from the convincing nastiness of Kingsley’s Snatcher, possibly from the almost savage glee of Snatcher’s helpmates. This is something that parents will need to decide for themselves. My instinct says the movie is hovering just on the edge of a PG – but if families watch this movie together, I believe the parents will be fine with what they see here.
FINAL FINAL SPOILERS: There’s one last thing – a final gift from the filmmakers, as it were, and one of the funniest gags for adults that we can find in the movie. Watch the movie into the end credits and don’t turn it off. Wait for a few moments and you’ll see an astonishing moment. Two of the reformed Snatcher helpers, Mr. Pickles and Mr. Trout begin to philosophize on the nature of the universe. They note that perhaps their world is a tiny place, and perhaps they are not moving but are being moved by giant creatures that spend, say, a whole day, to make them blink their eyes. And as they are saying this, we can begin to see the Laika animators moving all around them and doing just that. It’s a lovely meta moment, and one that harkens back to Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, where a character muses out loud, “Is it possible he should know what he is and be that he is?” After a full evening of wit from these guys, I can only say Bravo.
The Boxtrolls was released in late January on Blu-ray (both 3D and 2D) and DVD. The 3D Blu-ray includes the movie in both 2D and 3D, along with a commentary and about an hour’s worth of special features. The Blu-ray includes the DVD edition in the packaging, along with instructions for downloading a digital copy.
The Boxtrolls is presented in a 1.78:1 1080p MVC encode (@ an average 22/15 mbps but with the right eye channel going higher) and a 1080p AVC encode (@ an average 20 mbps). The 2D transfer is beautiful and colorful, but the detail may actually detract a little from the effect – it’s plainly obvious we are watching stop-motion and that problem can be distracting when the characters are speaking. The 3D transfer is subtle in most aspects of the 3D – there are some foreground elements here and there, and there are some good uses of depth in the picture. Where the 3D transfer helps the most is that the 3D itself provides a bit of cover for the stop-motion. Details that jump out in 2D are actually a little smoother when seen in 3D, which makes the whole thing go down a bit easier.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: 4/5
The Boxtrolls has an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix (@ an average 4.0 mbps, ranging up to 5.0 during the bigger scenes) that has a grand time filling the home theater space with music and atmospheric effects. The subwoofer gets a surprising amount of work here, particularly from ideas like Snatcher’s giant robot or an impossibly large wheel of Brie. The Blu-ray also carries DTS 5.1 mixes in Spanish and French.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
The Boxtrolls comes with a commentary by the directors, and Laika’s standard package of special features, including about 45 minutes worth of featurettes and almost 18 minutes of preliminary animatics.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
Feature Commentary with Directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi – (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This scene-specific commentary finds both directors in a happy mood as they go through the movie. They each take a fair amount of time to discuss the specifics of each character, as well as the evolution of the movie’s story. This commentary can be heard over both the 3D and 2D versions on the disc.
Preliminary Animatic Sequences – (17:29 Total, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – Here we have 6 animatic sequences that show what the filmmakers were initially thinking about various parts of the story. There’s actually an alternate opening here, with a different view of how Eggs was taken by the Boxtrolls.
Dare To Be Square: Behind the Scenes of The Boxtrolls – (32:48 Total, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH AND BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This is a collection of five featurettes: “Voicing the Boxtrolls”, “Inside the Box”, “The Big Cheese: Allergy Snatcher”, “Deconstructing the Dance” and “Think Big: The Mecha Drill”. The first of these obviously focuses on the actors voicing the characters – with an interesting revelation that Ben Kingsley read his lines while lying on the floor to get that guttural quality. The other four featurettes cover the work of the animators, particularly as relates to major sequences like Snatcher’s allergy attack, the virtuoso ballroom dance scene and the final battle with Snatcher’s robot.
Featurettes (13:00 Total, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This is a shorter collection of five featurettes: “The Nature of Creation”, “Trolls Right Off The Tongue”, “Allergic to Easy”, “Let’s Dance” and “On the Shoulders of Giants”. These cover some of the same ground as the longer featurettes, and appear to be the promotional videos that were posted on the internet when the movie hit theaters last fall.
DVD – The Blu-ray packaging includes the DVD edition, which holds the movie in 2D standard definition with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in English, Spanish and French (@448 kbps). The DVD includes the commentary and the two featurette collections. (The only thing not on the DVD is the collection of animatics.)
Digital/Ultraviolet Copy – The packaging has an insert that contains instructions for downloading a digital or ultraviolet copy of the movie.
Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French for the film itself, as well as for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference.
The Boxtrolls is another smart contribution from the stop-motion dream factory at Laika. It’s good work all the way around and a pleasure to watch. It starts slow, but it gets better and better as it moves along, ending with a virtuoso display of animation and a lovely final parting gag before things fade out. The 3D Blu-ray offers the movie in both 2D and 3D high definition, with my preference being the 3D iteration. A generous amount of special features are also included. This is a movie that’s a pleasure to Recommend.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Kevin EK
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