Monday, September 29, 2014

Bad Shakespeare Movie Time: The Boxtrolls

As I’ve mentioned on this blog that I decided to leave the lucrative world of teaching and join the lucrative world of… whatever one does with a PhD in English. Teach? Point out mistakes in movies? I’m not sure I’m still trying to work that out. 

And as I’ve mentioned, one of the fun things is that I have more control over classes I want to take. One of the classes I’ve taken this semester has been introduction to Cinema theory, because, and you may not know this about me, I really like movies. So I want to learn about them. So, this week I had a major paper due for the other class I’m taking on 19th Century American Regionalism (I’m also a fan of Regionalism, apparently. Go, regions!) and when it was done I decided to collapse in a heap and head on down to my local multiplex to check out a movie, since I really haven’t seen one since I graced the movie theaters with my presence for the Chris Pratt Ab Show Guardians of the Galaxy. 

Because I’m learning all this new stuff about movies and how I like bad movies but I don’t care, I decided to check out The Boxtrolls, because in addition to be a fan of cool stop motion animation films, I’m also a fan of Jared Harris because no one plays creepy like Jared Harris, and oh my God that’s Sir Ben Kingsly playing a man named Mr. Snatcher. Throw in some Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, and what could go wrong? Plus the fact that the Introduction to Cinema has completely changed the way I look at movies. 

The Boxtrolls is about a group of… well trolls… who wear boxes… but I guess that part is kind of obvious. But these boxtrolls live beneath the best name for a town ever called “Cheesebridge,” and are relatively harmless, stealing a few things here and there to tinker with, and build their cool contraptions underneath the town. That’s until the end up in the care of a baby who they’ll later name “Eggs” and the head of the town, Lord Portley-Rind (Harris at his most pompous) promises Mr. Snatcher (Kingsley) a white had and a seat at the elite table if he can rid the town of the boxtrolls. He does this with the help of his hench… er…. stooges… er… business partners? It’s complicated. Eventually, hilarity ensues.

I found Boxtrolls to be an amazingly entertaining film. I’m going to say that right up front. First, there’s the animation. I’m a big fan of stop motion animation. There’s something about knowing the amount of work that goes into moving just an arm is incredible. And that work carries over to the rest of the film. The town of Cheesebridge, while goofy, feels alive. There’s a wonderful sequence at the end when Snatcher’s companions, Mr. Trout (Nick Frost) and Mr. Pickles (Richard Ayode) have an interesting conversation about the nature of the universe, all gleefully shown in stop motion with the animator in full view.

Before I continue with the glowing accolades, I do want to discuss for a moment what I didn’t feel worked, and that’s the message of the film. For the first half of the film, there is an underlying message, one of accepting yourself, and understanding who you are. And in case you miss it, several of the characters are going to repeat it. And repeat it. And repeat it. I felt this took away from some of the subtly that was in most of this film. Yes, it’s a kid’s film, but kids are pretty smart, and they’d get it eventually. I just felt that it didn’t need to continue as long as it did. 

Of course, I did like those subtle moments the best. The movie, itself can be viewed about a bunch of trolls in a cheese-based city, but I really liked the message that wasn’t blasted on the screen every five minutes about fear. Snatcher makes his living by making people afraid. Most of the people buy into this fear. In fact, the first time we see a Boxtroll, he’s clutching a baby and the light shows a sinister glare on his face. It’s later we find out that it’s Fish, the best friend of Eggs, our main character. I like how the film showed us that manufactured fear right off the bat, and set us up for our red-hatted villains. (And, of course, setting up the “white hat” of the people who are supposed to be the saviors, but really aren’t.) 

The thing is, the subtle moments of this film are the best. The moments that aren’t loud, that happen little by little. When we last see Lord Portney-Rind, he’s given up his white hat. Not just for his daughter, but because of what it represents to him. When confronted about his differentness, there’s a great moment where Eggs justifies just about everything about not being a Boxtroll that he can. Even the “big reveals” of the movie are settled in nicely with some subtle moments for keen eyed viewers.

It’s almost as if there was another movie lurking beneath the shadows of the loud movie about a young boy and his boxtroll pals. While what we saw was awesome, I do wish I had seen more of the movie beneath, the one that wasn’t quite so loud, the one that relished in it’s quietness, allowed time for the small bits of humor to hang out, and didn’t need to run onto the next goofy thing.

Now, that being said, this is still a hilarious move that will delight children and adults. Did I say that right? The humor is spot on, the timing never felt off, and the actors are clearly having a good time. I could watch an entire movie that was simply the existential musings of Mr. Trout and Mr. Pickles as they wonder who the “good guys” are. (And I could have used a lot more of this. The “good guys” are the ones telling the story, and Mr. Snatcher just got there first.)

I highly recommend this movie. Were I not busy figuring out the mysteries of the universe in Graduate school, I’d go back and watch it again. But that’s why God provided us with Netflix. You should go check it out now, before it’s out of theaters, sit back, and enjoy.

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