Kicking the Tweets
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The Boxtrolls (2014)

So What and the Seven Whatnots

The Boxtrolls makes me wonder if I’m too old to enjoy kids’ movies. I was completely disengaged from everything--story, characters, and dialogue--until the closing credits, which played over a fun cover of “Little Boxes” by Loch Lomond. The last three minutes also taught me that Eric Idle wrote one of the songs, and that Tracy Morgan was both underused and unrecognizable as a voice talent.

The problem with the previous ninety-three minutes is that I’m so used to kids’ movies that pop off the screen with imagination and personality that matches—even trumps—the world-building technical artistry.

Yes, it’s impossible to talk about general-audience entertainment without mentioning Pixar. And there’s a reason: that studio knows what material justifies a feature-length adventure, and what works best as a three-minute short.

Up-and-coming studio Laika, on the other hand, struggles with this calculation. The Boxtrolls, like 2009’s Coraline, works great as an elevator pitch—not so much as a heady hour-and-a-half. There’s a lot of “business” in both films: gorgeously hand-crafted and hand-animated characters amuse each other for minutes on end in ways that do absolutely nothing to service an already questionable plot. We spend way more time watching the titular Boxtrolls fall all over each other than learning what they are, where they come from, or why we should care that they’re feared and oppressed by humans.

Sorry, I’m just now getting to the plot. Consider this my clever, meta way of describing the Boxtrolls experience. In a fictitious, vertically laid-out village, hundreds of scared citizens lock up their doors so as not to be attacked by the titular sewer-dwelling gremlins—who wear discarded store boxes as clothing, for some reason. A human boy, whom everyone believed had been kidnapped by the Boxtrolls, grows up with the monsters and eventually rejoins society on a quest to make everyone get along.

There’s a scheming businessman, a spunky-girl sidekick, and endless “look at me” fly-throughs of weird, subterranean landscapes. There’s also a noticeable deficit of surprises, heart, or reason to be impressed, outside of the fact that most of the animation didn’t come from a computer. Unfortunately, recent examples of CG that looks hand-made (such as The Lego Movie) makes Laika seem like the top horse-carriage manufacturer in a bullet-train world.

On second thought, I’m not too old to enjoy kids’ movies. The best children’s fare is timeless and multi-generational. The Boxtrolls is a painstakingly rendered paean to padding and silliness, with life lessons that will awaken and impress only those who’ve never seen other movies. The same can be said of Transformers: Age of Extinction, too, and I don’t plan to revisit that one, either.

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