The Boxtrolls — Christian Movie Review
“The Boxtrolls” has one of the most clever post-credits bonus scenes I’ve ever seen in any film. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
Both comically grotesque and irresistibly charming, the stop-motion animation (with no CGI!) of “The Boxtrolls” tells the story of a boy named Eggs who is raised by a community of boxtrolls beneath his Victorian-era, British-styled city. In some ways a stop-motion portrayal of class warfare, Eggs’s community is ruled by the 1%, a wealthy elite whose exclusive inner circle (and their inordinate love of gourmet cheeses), entices the envious Archibald Snatcher to plot a wicked, self-serving scheme that could destroy the boxtrolls and their adopted boy Eggs.
While the humorous animation can be a little gross-out and squeamish-inducing (on the level of Ren and Stimpy gross-out; if you’ve ever seen that animation, you know what I mean) — and though some of the dialogue has lurid descriptions of gore — this movie is a winner (and I’ll explain why in a moment).
It is rated PG, however, and probably not a good choice for very young children who cannot yet handle things beyond the G-rated realm. Here are more details on that before I get into the review…
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality: A man cross-dresses and performs as a female singer as a way to spread propaganda about the boxtrolls. This is sort of silly, but I suppose there is “boxtroll nudity” when we see the boxtrolls naked from behind (and they basically look the same as human beings).
Violence/Gore: There is a fair amount of violence (or threats of violence) portrayed, which is probably why it’s PG. There’s nothing graphic or gory, but there’s plenty of blunt-instrument violence: Snatcher apparently murders a man with a large wrench (though we only see him raise the wrench and strike; the wound is out of view), he tries to strangle a boy with a scarf, his minions shoot gun-like weapons at boxtrolls and hit them hard with wooden paddles, and initially it’s unclear if they’re just kidnapping boxtrolls or actually killing them. There’s some hitting and biting among the boxtrolls, but that’s more comedic and slap-stick. Also, the young girl in the film has a slight obsession with the macabre and gore, and whenever she recounts the legends of the boxtrolls, she describes the way they kill and eat their victims in gory detail: “i.e. they slurp up your intestines like noodles!” If you have a young child who is developed enough to understand the dialogue in movies, these descriptions might create some unsettling mental images. [Spoiler Alert in the remaining sentences of this section]. Probably the “goriest” scene is when Snatcher (who is animated to be possibly the ugliest, most foul man in stop-motion history) eats cheese and has an allergic reaction, and he swells up all over his body. It’s just gross. He looks really gross, and one of his minions gets leeches to drain his blood and make the swelling go down. He eventually eats too much cheese and blows up! (Though we see nothing of the carnage.)
Language: A character yells, “Oh my god!” in one scene.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: None.
Frightening/Intense Content: The boxtrolls at first are portrayed as frightening, but they quickly become cute and lovable. The real fright is in Archibald Snatcher, who is just a hideous looking man. You can almost smell his bad breath when you walk by the TV. He’s quite evil, though comical in some scenes as well — but mostly grotesque and probably frightening for young kids.
(Review continues below)
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Entertainment Value and Film Craft
“The Boxtrolls” is based on the children’s novel “Here Be Monsters” by Alan Snow, and its story, which is British through and through, is full of that downplayed British wit (and their occasionally odd enjoyment of morbidity). But, most of all, it’s full of boxtrolls, and that’s a good thing. They’re sort of the monster’s world version of hobbits: very likeable, resourceful (with cardboard boxes especially), fascinating, living in holes in the ground, and somehow very human. It’s fairly impossible not to like the boxtrolls. I personally love how they use their boxes in so many ways: one moment it’s a troll’s sleeping bag where he sleeps at night; the next moment it’s a springboard for jumping over a fence. And watching a boy live among them, and then seeing him attempt to go back to the human world (the Upper World, as he calls it) is fun and interesting. And, besides the fun, inventive story, the stop-motion animation is pure joy — done to perfection.
(And, speaking of the skillful stop-motion — and I know I already said this — but the movie has one of the most clever post-credits bonus scenes I’ve ever seen in any film. It’s closely related to the film’s old school stop-motion approach, and it involves the two comical henchman of Snatcher as they ask some very deep questions about life. I’m still smiling just thinking about that scene.)
Worldview and Themes of Redemption
I just read a headline in the news that said, with great shock and outcry “Top 0.1% of Americans Hold as Much Wealth as Bottom 90%.” This might be a summary of the city where “The Boxtrolls” take place. I wouldn’t say the film gets political in any specific way — at least not in the Right-Left sense of American politics — but it does provide a sharp criticism of wealthy people of privilege who become so self-absorbed that they only care about having as much pleasure and luxury as possible at the expense of all else. That about summarizes the four leaders of the city who govern everything. It’s all done with great humor, of course, like a zany satire, but the class warfare theme is definitely in there in a vague, generalized way. I suppose it could also work as a criticism of excessive consumerism, greed, and the general tendencies of selfishness in human nature in general.
On the other hand, the villain is a man who envies the wealth and status of the elite, and he is willing to do anything to get it. That envy is portrayed in a negative light. So the criticism works the other way too: don’t envy others who have better things or positions than you (which is what many people caught up in class warfare are doing) because it will always lead to bad things. (And, for the Christian, we have a Biblical command to never envy anyone, no matter how wealthy they are and poor we are.)
All in all, though it has some gross-out animation in some spots, “The Boxtrolls” tells a wonderfully endearing, charming story that families will love.
And it even teaches us a few lessons about the dangers of excessive greed and using wealth for selfish purposes while also showing the dangers of envying those who are wealthy.
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