The Boxtrolls Movie Review 0 66


Stop-motion animation studio Laika burst onto the scene in 2009 with the now beloved Coraline, which infused spooky visuals with slapstick humour and real emotion. Then came ParaNorman which managed to surpass their first effort, to deliver a modern animation classic that gloriously referenced all manner of horror movies and tropes while still being a unique, clever and heartfelt film all on its own. Now, two years later, they’re back with The Boxtrolls and it continues their run of charmingly idiosyncratic and gorgeously animated works.

Based on the novel Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow, the film is set in a town called Cheesebridge, which is ran by a mainly aristocratic population obsessed with – you guessed it – eating cheese. Meanwhile, under the city live mischievous creatures called The Boxtrolls who spend their time using cardboard boxes as disguises, scavenging the land above for trash that they can incorporate into their underground society.

The story follows Eggs (voiced by Game of Thrones star Isaac Hempstead-Wright), a young orphan boy who was raised by the trolls. One day he and his adopted family start to be targeted by the evil Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) who plans to exterminate any Boxtroll he can find and so Eggs has to do whatever he can to save his family and way of life.

Like Coraline and ParaNorman before it, The Boxtrolls isn’t exactly what you would call a conventional kids film. It’s an unusual concept, the likes of which can easily work on the written page where the reader’s imagination is the limit, but realising it on-screen doesn’t seem as straightforward. Luckily the talented team at Laika have adapted the world pretty damn faithfully while still making it intensely and gorgeously cinematic in its own right.

Kids will love this film. It appeals to the wonder and creativity of childhood; that old school innocence of playing in the back garden or climbing trees, of finding the perfect hiding place around the house and jumping out like a monster to scare someone as they walked past. It’s a total celebration of silliness and cheekiness that the young ones in the audience will recognise and latch onto, not to mention the array of loveable oddball characters (hello merchandise!).

However, as much as it will appeal to kids, this isn’t the kind of throwaway variety we’ve sadly seen too much of over these last few months. Whereas the likes of ‘Planes 2’ and ‘The Nut Job’ were mere distractions for the kids with no real weight to them, ‘The Boxtrolls’ explores some surprisingly complex issues about nature versus nurture and the importance of family, especially in trying times, to name but a couple. That’s very rare in a movie that’s sold primarily to the younger market, but ‘The Boxtrolls’ admirably goes straight for it while at the same time never feeling like it’s shoving a heavy-handed message down your throat.

The film sports a superb voice cast to add even more personality to the already compelling characters, including the likes of Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Elle Fanning, Richard Ayoade, Toni Collette and Simon Pegg. Fanning is particularly good as the feisty and determined Winnie, daughter of the snooty cheese-loving Lord Portley-Rind (Harris), who joins Eggs in his mission, while the brilliantly name Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley) makes for a formidable – and very frightening for the kids – baddie. The script is utterly witty, chalk full of clever jokes and sight gags that should have children and adults alike giggling.

But at the end of the day it’s the animators who are the real stars of the show, skilfully bringing this complex world to life in wonderful, delightful and meticulous detail with animation that’s as technically impressive as it is completely fitting to the story at hand. It may be slicker and more polished than the previous two efforts but it loses none of the personality or charm. Compared to Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks, Laika is still a toddler but, if it wasn’t the case before, ‘The Boxtrolls’ solidifies them as an animation studio to be reckoned with.

The Boxtrolls is released in UK cinemas on September 12th.

This review was previously published on Scotcampus.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 542

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 567

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10

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