DVD/Blu-ray review: ‘Boxtrolls’

“The Boxtrolls” DVD/Blu-ray set comes in a cool slip cover and the amount of benefit you’ll get from the extras depends upon how up-to-date your technology is: You can view it in 3D.  If you’re interested in 3D graphics, stop animation you’ll want to get this DVD/Blu-ray for the features, even if you’ve seen this charming Oscar-nominated feature before.

For the Blu-ray 3D experience, you’ll need a 3D-enabled TV player and 3D glasses. Otherwise you can enjoy the movie in 2D.  More on that and the features later.

In 2D, it is still wonderful in its details and storyline. One thing that I appreciated is that the main female character is a sturdy girl who is brave and confident.

“The Boxtrolls” is an American 3D stop animation fantasy comedy film that was based on Alan Snow’s “Here Be Monsters!” Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi direct. Annable had previously worked as a story artist on “Coraline.” Stacchi was the co-director on “Open Season” (Sony Pictures). He had been a storyboard artist for “Antz,” “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” and “Curious George.”

“The Boxtrolls” takes place in a vaguely European Victorian town called Cheesebridge which is an over-the-top tall city build up on an tiny isthmus. Underneath this built-up city live the Boxtrolls, subterranean creatures with a language of their own that has snatches of English incorporated. Something like hermit crabs, they clothes their bodies and hide themselves in boxes–old cardboard boxes. The humans fear the Boxtrolls, and tell tales of Boxtrolls kidnapping children and eating them when we learn soon enough that Boxtrolls garden in order to raise bugs. They are buggy for bugs.

A greasy-haired, potbellied red hat-wearing citizen of Cheesebridge, Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), makes a deal with the head cheese–Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris). If Snatcher exterminates all the Boxtrolls, he will be given entry into the White Hat society–a group of snobby men who are gourmets of…what else? Cheese.

Snatcher is, unfortunately, highly allergic to cheese.

There was one specific case of a child being stolen away by the Boxtrolls, the case of the Trubshaw boy. The boy was the son of an inventor, Herbert Trubshaw (Simon Pegg), who has also disappeared.

The orphaned boy was actually adopted by the Boxtrolls and named Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright). The only father-figure he remembers is Fish (Dee Bradley Baker). Eggs believes he is a Boxtroll and becomes increasingly alarmed as more and more of his friends, Boxtrolls, disappear. When Fish is captured, Eggs goes looking for him and finds the humans having a festival that commemorates the disappearance of the Trubshaw Baby. A pantomime performed by Madame Frou Frou (Ben Kingsley) depicted the kidnapping and horrid behavior of the Boxtrolls.

Eggs is disgusted by these inaccurate portrayals, but he also befriends Winnie Portley-Rind (Elle Fanning). Winnie eventually discovers that Eggs is the Trubshaw Baby and helps Eggs and Fish.

Yet what happened to Herbert Trubshaw and where have all the Boxtrolls gone? And just how does Snatcher means to kill all the Boxtrolls and, what is a Mecha Drill?

Of course, this lovely little tale will have a happy ending, for everyone except Snatcher.

There’s a certain charm in Laika’s vision of this fictional world. The detail is amazing and the use of fabric for costumes instead of plastic makes a difference, giving a rich quality to each character while creating problems (as discussed in the featured extras) that the animators ably resolved.

Besides the gorgeously detailed sets and costumes and expressive characters, this animated feature provides children with a female character that breaks the mold of Disney princesses. Winnie isn’t lithe and she isn’t a damsel in distress. She is an able-bodied, sturdily built girl who helps push both Eggs and her father toward bettering themselves.

In all, I enjoyed this animated feature on the first viewing and then after watching the features and then listening to the directors’ comments, I had a new appreciation for the obstacles the animators overcame and the rich environment created from using three different types of animation.

I recommend watching the feature first, then watching the behind-the-scenes features and then watching the movie again with the directors’ comments. The featurettes are shorter, less detailed versions of the behind-the-scenes features.

The extras include:

  • Choose version of the movie
  • Preliminary animatic sequences
  • Dare to be square: Behind the scenes of “The  Boxtrolls”
  • Featurettes
  • Feature Commentary with the directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi.

“Dare to Be Square: Behind the Scenes of ‘The Boxtrolls'”  includes

  • Voicing “The Boxtrolls”
  • Inside the Box
  • The Big Cheese: Allergy Snatcher
  • Deconstructing the Dance
  • Think Big: The Mecha Drill

“Voicing ‘The Boxtroll'” talks about casting the voices like forming an orchestra. We meet Isaach Hempstead-Wright who plays Eggs and Elle Fanning who plays Winnie Portley-Rind. We get to see him recording his screams. Fanning talks about how she saw her character and delighted that she was able to show her “sassy side.” Ben Kingsley thought of making Archibald Snatcher’s voice very visceral–coming from his belly because his character eats so badly and has a potbelly. We also get to see him doing the Madame Frou Frou and Kingsley noted that the very change of voice shows how crafty Snatcher is.

“Inside the Box” shows you how much work went into constructing the boxes and what was on the inside of the box. At first the animators thought it would be simple, but instead, the construction was very complicated and you’ll get to see the mechanic of the puppets. The Boxtrolls had LED lit eyes to change the faces and other features, magnets were connected to the wires.

“The Big Cheese” is in some ways a continuation of the “Inside the Box” but it looks at Snatcher and how his allergic reaction was visualized, constructed and then animated. And, of course, it also have to be voiced.

“Deconstructing the Dance” show the mechanics of the dance. Composer Dario Marianelli talks about composing the waltz. We learn that animators, particularly stop-motion animators, fear floating hair and movie fabrics. For the animators to understand how it would work with real people, they hired dancers and choreographers. The puppets had jointed hoop skirts and the hoops have their own “legs.” Besides the actual puppets, there are also CGI dancers.

“Think Big: Mecha Drill” shows just how big and fabulous this puppet was. It may be the biggest stop-motion puppet ever made.  The concept was “a walking factory that could explode at any point.” You’ll see how big it actually is compared to people.  The thing had about 600 pieces but I don’t think that includes the iPad mini that was inside the Mecha Drill. Yes, you can use your iPads to help your animation.

In all, these behind-the-scenes features really increased my appreciation for the animated feature and the achievements of Laika in the making of “The Boxtrolls.” You have to hope that we will get to visit this world again.

The Featurettes are

  • The Nature of Creation
  • Trolls Right Off the Tongue
  • Allergic to Easy
  • Let’s Dance
  • On the Shoulders of Giants

“The Nature of Creation” is about how they create a believable environment. Nothing comes for free because you need to create water–how it flows. You need to create dust and smoke. Even the weeds must be created  and  stylized. The feature shows how they decided to do the fire (cheese cloth). Later, you’ll learn more about how fire was done.

“Trolls Right Off the Tongue” is about how Steve Blum and Dee Baker created the Boxtroll language.What they did was experiment with animal sounds and a bit of understandable words. The important part was not understanding the “words” but the emotional intent. There’s more on this twosome in the behind the scenes features.

“Allergic to Easy” looks out how difficult it was to animate the allergic reactions. Apparently the Laika way is the most difficult way. Thousands of drawings were done before the puppet was actually modeled.  This feature shows how 3D computer graphics is used along with the 3D printer.

“Let’s Dance” focuses on the dancing scene. There’s little explanation, but you’ll see scenes from the movie’s ballroom scene as well as clips of people working on the costume design through sketches, stitching up the costumes, making the frames for the hoop skirts and painting the fine details. The clothes are not plastic; they are fabric and that gives the animation real texture.

“On the Shoulders of Giants” gives you a look at the massive steampunk machine that was dubbed the Mecha-Drill  that is a puppet, a prop and a set. You get to see close ups of the contraption, but there’s more in the other features.

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