When it comes to family entertainment, I find myself drawn to stuff that is delightfully weird. Laika, the stop-motion animation studio founded by Nike CEO Phil Knight, has staked its claim right in the middle of delightfully weird territory with the movies “Coraline” and “ParaNorman.”
Laika is back at it with “The Boxtrolls,” an odd little fable that might be their strangest outing yet.
Set in a fictitious, stylized village that smacks of turn-of-the-century Bavaria, below the streets there lives a shy, industrious race of creatures called boxtrolls, so dubbed because they wear boxes the same way a turtle wears a shell.
Each night, they sneak to the surface to swipe trinkets discarded by the humans to take back down to their caverns to construct all manner of doohickeys and thingamabobs.
Through mysterious circumstances, an orphaned human boy is taken as a baby and raised by the boxtrolls. Given the name Eggs, as all the boxtrolls are named by whatever is pictured on the box they’ve chosen (so there’s Fish, Shoe, Wheels, etc.), the boy grows up believing he is just another boxtroll.
Eggs (who is voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright, best known as Bran Stark on “Game of Thrones”) is sheltered from the outside world by the boxtrolls but is forced to venture out when members of their little community begin to disappear.
Although they are harmless, sinister opportunists Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) trumpets the boxtrolls as a mortal threat only he and his reluctant henchmen Mr. Trout (Nick Frost), and Mr. Pickles (Richard Ayoade) and their sadistic companion Mr. Gristle (Tracy Morgan) can eliminate.
Snatcher makes a deal with town elder Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) that if he can exterminate all of the boxtrolls then he would be welcome into the upper crust of this strange little society.
Things take a turn when Eggs runs into Lord Portley-Rind’s rambunctious and slightly-twisted daughter Winnie (Elle Fanning) and realizes he’s not a boxtroll after all and he can be the link between the two worlds.
This movie is a lot of fun, with plenty of laughs and surprises around every turn. The level of detail in the stop-motion animation is astounding as this movie has a look and feel that’s not quite like anything you’ve ever seen before.
It’s all wrapped up in a nice lesson about the evils of fear-mongering and xenophobia, and while it might be a little too out-there and dark for little children (and maybe some parents as well), it hits the sweet spot for the adventurous kid of grade-school-age on up.
It’s just nice to see a studio like Laika that isn’t trying to go head-to-head with world-conquering, family-entertainment behemoths like Disney and Pixar, but instead has carved out a nice little niche for itself out on the fringes.
It’s a joy just to watch the boundless creativity pour out of a movie like “The Boxtrolls,” even if it ultimately doesn’t amount to much more than an oddball lark. Sometimes it turns out it’s just a lot more fun to sit with the weird kids at the lunch table; of course, that really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.
“The Boxtrolls” is rated PG for action, some peril, and mild rude humor.