Not many children’s movies would feature someone voicing the fear that the title characters would “kidnap me and slurp up my intestines like noodles,” but then again, “The Boxtrolls” is not like most other kid flicks.
Based on Alan Snow’s illustrated novel “Here Be Monsters!,” and from the folks who brought us the dark visions of “Coraline” and “ParaNorman,” “The Boxtrolls” is the most original film for young’uns to come out this year.
According to town father Lord Portley-Rind (voice of Jared Harris) of the Victorian-age town of Cheesebridge, the Boxtrolls are evil beasts that steal children, eat their faces and live underground among mountains of bones and rivers of blood. They’re so hideous there are even popular songs written about their dastardly deeds. To rid the community of these vile creatures Rind brings in a social-climbing exterminator named Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), who guarantees the complete annihilation of the trolls in return for a coveted White Hat and a place at the town’s exclusive cheese table.
The Boxtrolls, of course, aren’t evil. They are good-natured, green-skinned trolls who use cardboard boxes as camouflage, speak gibberish and get into mischief, like smelly Minions. Sure, they eat live bugs and live underground in a Rube Goldberg-esque steampunk world of machines made from parts salvaged from the garbage but they also love music and have raised a human child, Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), as one of their own. If the Boxtrolls are to survive, Eggs will have to go head-to-head with Snatcher and his henchmen Mr. Pickles (Richard Ayoade), Mr. Trout (Nick Frost) and Mr. Gristle (Tracy Morgan).
Combining the atmosphere of Hammer horror films with slapstick humour, a deranged story, a “be who you are” message and morbidly marvelous attention to every stop-motion detail, “The Boxtrolls” is a trick and a treat.
Unabashedly weird and wonderful, the movie may be too scary for the little ones, but any child who has spent time with the “Goosebumps” series or “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” shouldn’t be kept up at night by either the story or the visuals.
Instead they’ll likely be drawn in by the beautiful set decoration, the ingenious character design—the baddies all have the worst teeth since Austin Powers—and fun voice work. As the lactose intolerant Snatcher Kingsley has the most fun. It’s a flamboyant performance, inventive and eccentric, that will entertain kids and their parents.
“The Boxtrolls” is Pixar on drugs, a wild ride that isn’t afraid to mix a scare or two in with the kid stuff.
ParaNorman writer and director Chris Butler uses pop culture references to describe what his movie is all about.
“Its John Carpenter meets John Hughes,” he explains. Later he says, “It’s like the characters of The Breakfast Club dropped into The Fog.” After that he notes, “It’s an episode of Scooby Doo directed by Sam Raimi.”
If that doesn’t paint a picture for you, he goes on to explain that “the original idea was, ‘How cool would it be to do a stop-motion zombie movie for kids?’ Just as a concept alone I’m sold.”
In the movie Norman is a young boy with a special supernatural talent. “He’s trying to figure out what his gift means,” says Butler. “He can see and speak to dead people and quite often that is the only intelligent conversation he gets.” His ability doesn’t exactly endear him to his schoolmates, or family for that matter, until a witch’s curse brings a zombie plague to the town. Then everybody wants to hang out with Norman.
“I grew up watching all the movies that I shouldn’t have watched and frankly I think they made me the sophisticated and level headed person I am today,” Butler laughs. Those movies definitely had an influence on me but then the story broadened in scope and became as much about the horror influences as it did about the family movie influences that I grew up watching. It became a love letter to the era of 80s moviemaking that I sorely miss.
The result is an entertaining film with one foot in the supernatural and the other firmly grounded in the reality of kid’s lives.
“I thought it was an interesting approach,” he says. “When you’re 11 years old the kid who lives down the lane, who bullies you everyday, is as real a terror as any kind of fictional monster. It was about juxtaposing the fictional horror of movies and monsters with the real horror of how middle school sucks.”
But is ParaNorman, with its green-faced zombies, too scary for kids?
“I think parents also know their kids,” Butler says. “It’s difficult to come up with a specific age range. Just a couple of days ago someone said their five year old had seen it. Not only did she love it, and wasn’t particularly scared by it, but she also got the quite sophisticated message that is underneath it. Whereas maybe a more timid ten year old may not want to go see it.”
It’s been a long time since a kid’s movie this dark has been unleashed on our unsuspecting youth. “ParaNorman,” a new stop-motion animated film from the producers of “Coraline,” harkens back to a time when Disney used to make creepy cartoons like “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow;” before it was decided that kids shouldn’t be exposed to anything except talking animals and stories about the ecology.
Norman (voice of “Let Me In” star Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a twelve-year-old boy who can see dead people. And talk to them too. His unique gift, however, is unappreciated by his family, the townsfolk of Blithe Hollow and schoolmates, who call him AbNorman. He’s an outsider, with only one friend, Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), an overweight boy who is also picked on at school. When an old tale about a witch who cursed the town’s forefathers to die a gruesome death and later rise from their graves comes true Norman is the only person who can save the town.
The first thing you’ll notice about “ParaNorman” is how great it looks. The 3D and scene composition gives it the look of beautiful, old View-Master slides. The stop motion work is lovingly hand made looking, giving the whole thing an organic film that slicker, computer generated movies simply don’t have.
The next thing you’ll notice is how dark the movie is. There are Edgar Allen Poe worthy moments—for example a teddy bear belches bugs and Norman grapples with a rigor-mortised body—and a gaggle of green-faced zombies and eerie atmospherics to burn. Imagine if Tim Burton and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine had a baby. Its name would be “ParaNorman.” Parents should be aware that the visuals might be nightmare-inducing for younger viewers.
Parents and kids who enjoy getting mildly creeped-out, however, will find lots to like here. A car ride with a zombie in the backseat is funny and lines like “Not believing in the afterlife is like not believing in astrology,” are more sophisticated than the writing in your average kid’s flick.
“ParaNorman” is a rare treat—a fun homage to horror and a children’s flick that adults can enjoy with or without the kids.