Movie Review: “The Boxtrolls”

Starring
Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Jared Harris
Directors
Graham Annable & Anthony Stacchi

Pixar may get all the love, but over the last five years, Laika Studios has really come into its own as a company that you can usually expect great things from. Not only has the Portland-based animation house breathed new life into the underappreciated art of stop-motion with movies like “Coraline” and “ParaNorman,” but they’ve done so with an offbeat style unlike any of their competitors. That Burton-esque spirit is alive and well in “The Boxtrolls,” but sadly, that’s about it. The studio’s latest film is an uncharacteristic misfire lacking the charm, wit and heart of its previous efforts, and although it has moments of brilliance, they’re buried beneath an uninspired script that left me feeling cold and indifferent.

The titular Boxtrolls are a race of builders who live in an underground lair eating bugs and tinkering with the junk they forage during their nighttime excursions above ground. Though they’re an otherwise friendly group, the Boxtrolls have been forced into hiding after a villainous schemer named Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) used the disappearance of a local baby as a way to convince the townspeople that the Boxtrolls are dangerous monsters who eat children. Desperate to climb the social ladder and join the ranks of the town’s elite White Hats, Snatcher strikes a deal with their leader, Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), to exterminate all of the Boxtrolls in exchange for his very own white hat and access to their exclusive cheese-tasting club.

But what the townspeople don’t realize is that the missing child is actually alive and well, raised by the Boxtrolls as one of their own after his father gave him away. Now a fully-grown boy, Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) – named after the cardboard box he wears on his body – has begun to fear for their survival after watching his friends get captured by Snatcher’s red hat-wearing henchman. With the help of Lord Portley-Rind’s meddlesome daughter, Winnie (Elle Fanning), Eggs ventures into the city to rescue the Boxtrolls and expose Snatcher for the slimy charlatan that he is.

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5 Questions with Isaac Hempstead-Wright of “The Boxtrolls” and “Game of Thrones”

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Whether you’re being raised by trolls, surviving a Westoros defenestration, or making a career in the wild and wacky world of international show business, it never hurts to be both enthusiastic and, believe it not, genuine. Now 15 years old, Isaac Hempstead-Wright is best known to most as Bran Stark on “Game of Thrones,” HBO’s Emmy-winning adult fantasy sensation based on George R.R. Martin’s gazillion-selling literary doorstops. His voice is also soon to become known to family film audiences as the heroic young Eggs in “The Boxtrolls,” the latest from Laika Studios, the stop-motion animation whizzes who brought us the rightfully acclaimed “Coraline” and “ParaNorman.”

An apparently very down-to-earth youth from an industrial English village, Hempstead-Wright seems unaffected by the fact that he’s spent several of his formative years working on a long-form dark fantasy spiked with graphic violence and NC-17-esque sexuality. Soulful and earnest on TV, in person, the young actor is eager and friendly to a fault – after we were told our interview was completed, he engaged us in some neighborly small-talk until yours truly was very nearly forcibly ejected by publicity.

That enthusiasm has no doubt been a plus in the physically and emotionally challenging role of the disabled, steadfast young Bran alongside the stellar “Game of Thrones” cast. It also must have factored into Laika’s decision to place Hempstead-Wright alongside the top-drawer “Boxtrolls” voice ensemble, which includes Elle Fanning, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Simon Pegg and Sir Ben Kingsley.

As the old saying goes, you need sincerity to succeed in show business and, if you can fake that, you’ve got it made. Here are five pretty sincere answers we don’t think young Hempstead-Wright had to fake.

1. Can you persuade the Bullz-Eye core audience of males, aged 18-35, that it’s safe to see “The Boxtrolls” despite it’s family-friendly PG rating?

IHW: I would say go and see “The Boxtrolls” just because the Boxtrolls are really cute, even if you’re sort of this big, butch person, I think you would enjoy how cute they are, because that’s kind of what they are. They look like, on the outside, they are these terrifying creatures, but you realize they are very soft and sweet inside.

[My character, Eggs] is a boy who thinks he’s a Boxtroll. He’s an orphan who was raised by Boxtrolls because they’re the only people who really care for him. If you look at a lot of the people in the upper world – the Boxtrolls live in an underground cavern – [the human parents are] all really horrible. Well, not horrible — they just don’t care for the children. If you look at [lead female character, voiced by Elle Fanning] Winnie’s parents, they are much more interested in cheese than in [their] daughter.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to September

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The fall movie season is always pretty hit and miss, but this September features one of the most unpredictable lineups in quite a while. Though there aren’t many big releases apart from Antoine Fuqua’s adaptation of “The Equalizer,” there are several big names headlining smaller films, like Tom Hardy in “The Drop,” Liam Neeson in “A Walk Among the Tombstones” and the star-studded cast of “This Is Where I Leave You.” It’s too early to say whether any of the movies have a genuine shot at Oscar gold, but they’re just a few of the promising new releases this month.

“NO GOOD DEED”

Who: Taraji P. Henson, Idris Elba, Leslie Bibb and Kate del Castillo
What: When a charming escaped convict shows up at her door claiming car trouble, a suburban mother finds herself fighting for survival when the man invades her home.
When: September 12th
Why: “No Good Deed” may sound like your garden-variety home invasion thriller, but while it doesn’t appear to offer anything new to the genre, it at least features a pair of great actors in Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson. Elba, in particular, has such an incredible star quality that it’s amazing he’s not headlining his own major franchise by now (Marvel Studios, take note), while Henson has proven on numerous occasions that she’s no slouch either. If nothing else, their involvement provides hope that the movie will be entertaining as a pulpy genre flick, but unless there’s more to the story than the trailer hints at, chances are that “No Good Deed” will be as forgettable as the hundreds of other likeminded thrillers just like it.

“THE DROP”

Who: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini and Matthias Schoenaerts
What: Bob Saginowski finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into his neighborhood’s past.
When: September 12th
Why: Though it comes with the undesirable label of being James Gandolfini’s final movie, “The Drop” has all the makings of a dark horse awards contender. Adapted by esteemed crime writer Dennis Lehane from his own short story, and directed by Michael R. Roskam, who first gained attention in 2011 with his Oscar-nominated film “Bullhead,” “The Drop” also boasts an excellent international cast led by Tom Hardy. Obviously, Gandolfini is the main draw, and he looks to be at the top of his game here, but Hardy has been quietly building an impressive body of work for years, and if we’ve learned anything from the last few Lehane adaptations, they always bring out the best in actors. Could this finally be the year that Hardy nabs a nomination?

“THE MAZE RUNNER”

Who: Dylan O’Brian, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario and Thomas Brodie-Sangster
What: When Thomas wakes up trapped in a massive maze with a group of boys, he must join forces with some of the other captives in order to escape.
When: September 19th
Why: Every studio in Hollywood wants their own “Twilight” or “The Hunger Games,” but the fact of the matter is that most movies based on young adult novels are massive failures. (Just ask the casts of “The Mortal Instruments,” “Beautiful Creatures,” “The Host” and “Vampire Academy,” all of which were released in the past 18 months.) With that said, first-time director Wes Ball’s “The Maze Runner” is one of the more intriguing YA adaptations in recent memory. Though its “Hunger Games”-meets-“Lord of the Flies” premise is every bit as uninspired as most of the novels permeating the genre, there’s something about its blend of mystery and science fiction that’s piqued my interest. 20th Century Fox hasn’t had much luck with these types of films, but this could be the one that finally breaks their duck.

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