Animation/Family, 96 Minutes, 2014
LAIKA, the studio behind the classics “Coraline” [IMDB] and “ParaNorman” [My Review at MoreBrains.com], continues its mostly thankless efforts to elevate the quality family cinema. Lighter than their previous offerings, this still provides the intelligence and depth that we’ve come to expect from them.
True to its pedigree, the movie is a technical masterpiece. Gloriously tactile stop motion accents lovingly integrated cel and computer animation. As good as computer animation can be, it can’t capture the depth of lighting, texture and interaction that actual, physical models can. Each LAIKA film has a distinctive visual palette, but each also retains an undeniable, signature “LAIKA-ness”. A lack of right-angles, straight-teeth and symmetry that creates an infectious approachability to the work.
The story mixes traditionally dark fairy-tale themes with outlandish vaudevillian slapstick comedy. Abandonment is a key theme, both physical in the case of our hero Eggs, and, in the case of his precocious newfound friend Winnie, emotional. Although he doesn’t know it at first, Eggs is actually not a boxtroll, but is, in fact, a human boy who was left with them. Winnie is a privileged girl who’s powerful father all but ignores her.
Eggs may live in a sewer, wear nothing but cardboard and eat bugs: but he his loved by his adoptive family. When they are maligned and threatened by an exterminator intent on impressing the unimpressive upper class, Eggs is forced to face his past and learn about the human world that apparently rejected him.
There’s a subtly to the characters not seen in most family films. The villain is, absolutely, villainous, but is also pitiable. It’s made sadly clear that his obsession with upward mobility is a fool’s errand and that those he longs to hob nob with aren’t worth the effort. The heroes are heroic, but humanly so. Eggs reacts to his changing situation predictably because his reactions are natural and believable.
The story may be sillier than their previous movies, but it’s no less warm or intelligent. LAIKA’s painstaking process means that we’ll only be privileged with their work infrequently. From their history so far, it will always be worth the wait.