Art imitates life in animated film ‘The Boxtrolls’

Monstrosity comes in all forms. Or so we learn from Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi’s existential animated 3D stop-motion picture, “The Boxtrolls.”

Based on Alan Snow’s children’s book trilogy, “Here Be Monsters!”, the 96-minute Laika Entertainment film (the production company responsible for “ParaNorman” and “Coraline”) is a steampunk adventure that explores the meaning of humanity. As the film begins, Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kinsley) leads a couple of henchmen through the hilly and windy cobblestone streets of Cheesebridge. Their mission: the virtuous deed of capturing and killing these vile nocturnal Gollum-sized creatures fabled to eat human children; these villainous fiends are called boxtrolls.

According to Snatcher, boxtroll extermination is a noble occupation and his key into the privileged cheese-eating royal ruling guild of white hats Lord Portley-Rinds (Jared Harris), Sir Langsdale (Maurice LaMarche), Sir Broderick (James Urbaniak) and Boulanger (Brian George).

His henchmen follow willingly enough, but don’t share Snatcher’s conviction.

“Do you think boxtrolls understand the duality of good and evil?” asks henchman Mr. Pickles (voiced by Richard Ayoade).

“They must,” answers Mr. Trout (Nick Frost). “Or else why would they hide from us? We are the good guys.”

Except good and evil aren’t clearly defined in Irena Brignull and Adam Pava’s script. While Snatcher shares “Despicable Me’s” Gru’s portly form, his attitude resembles Robert Helpmann’s child catcher from the 1968 classic “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

Meanwhile, the boxtrolls are small and childlike, fascinated by round items likes gears and clocks. They talk in an adorable nonsensical babble. And call each other by the labels on the boxes in which they hide in.

Naturally, we fall in love with them. With their oblong heads and glow-in-the-dark yellow eyes, they resemble other animated cuties like “Despicable Me’s” minions.

Their underground lair is the rich and intricate treasure troves in “Wall-E.” Their most precious item: a baby boy (voiced by Isaac Hemstead Wright of “Game of Thrones” fame) fascinated by the lullabies from broken wind-up toys and old Italian barbershop quartet records (composed by Dario Marianelli). The boxtrolls call him Eggs. Fish (Dee Bradley Baker) becomes Eggs’ best friend and parental figure. The animation team, comprised of almost 30 members, create a charming montage into the boxtroll’s wondrous world.

But that world dwindles with each of Snatcher’s triumphs.

Like “Coraline” and “ParaNorman,” “The Boxtrolls” conquers tough issues. Brignull and Pava’s screenplay deals with loss as skillfully as J.K. Rowling did when she penned the scene where Sirius Black fell through the veil in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”

“Why do we do this, Shoe?” asks Eggs as his boxtroll friends slowly disappear under Snatcher’s reign. “Carry on like everything’s normal?”

The answer, of course, is to live, but what is a life in hiding?

As difficult and grotesque as some of these lessons are, Annable and Stacchi’s film shows that art imitates real life and real life is ugly. Be sure to stick around for the credits, though, as the animators pull back the curtain and reveal the great wizard of Oz himself.

“The Boxtrolls” was directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi and written by Irena Brignull and Adam Pava, based on Alan Snow’s novel, “Here Be Monsters!” 


NYCC 2014: Composer Howard Shore talks LOTR

Composer Howard Shore has spun more than seven dozen rich and complex movie scores including Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” (2011) and David Fincher’s “Se7en” (1995).

But unlike working with Scorsese and Fincher, Shore’s work approach on composing the music to Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies is a little different.

Whereas Shore works around the text in other films, the text is vital when composing the layered compositional themes to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

“When I’m writing, one of the things I really like to do is read,” Shore told Douglas Adams and attendees of the 2014 New York Comic Con Thursday afternoon. “So this just gave me the opportunity to spread my interests.”


Tolkien laid out a roadmap in his works, says Shore.

“The other thing that Tolkien does is he shows you a compass,” he said. “So I tried to show the orchestration, the colors of it.”

Shore does this by studying Tolkien’s language.

“The idea being when I read the book, so many times, all the beautiful verses and songs were like poetry and I felt like they needed to be in the story,” Shore said. “As you watch the story, you’re hearing Tolkien’s words.”

These words are reflected in the lighthearted, happier tunes of “The Hobbit” or the darker, more Eastern European themes of lands within “The Lord of the Rings.”

“I was trying to show the origins of music with things like the flute or voice because it begins to describe the roots of a culture,” says Shore.

His composition was an evolving process, he says. The first “Lord of the Rings” theme he composed was the themes for the Shire and Fellowship after he visited New Zealand. The compositional theme to the destruction of Mordor took him three years and nine months to write.

“Music is written from a more personal heartfelt,” he says. “If you don’t feel anything, you can’t write.”

Shore’s complete “Lord of the Rings” trilogy will be performed by 250 musicians live from April 8 to 12, 2015, at the Lincoln Center in New York City.

Shore won Academy Awards for his work on “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings” and “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

GOT’s Hordor and Podrick Payne at NYCC 2014

“This literally came out of the blue,” says Kristian Nairn, the Northern Irish actor who plays the lovable giant, Hordor, in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” franchise. “I was in some musicals and stuff, but this literally changed my life,” he said at the 2014 New York Comic Con.

Nairn and Daniel Portman (who plays Podrick Payne) were two of the guests featured in Comic Con’s “Game of Thrones” fan forum Thursday afternoon, hosted by Wikia’s Eric Moro, GOT Wikia founder Adam Werthead and Marvel Wikia founder Jamie.

Nairn revealed that he’s never read the books; Portman was a huge fanboy before he was casted for his role.

“When I was first cast, I felt pressure from the fans,” says Nairn about reading the books.

The cast compared the books with the show, including age discrepancies between the different mediums.

“You can’t have an eight or nine year old killing people,” says Portman, “just like you can’t have a 10 year old in a brothel.”

Portman blushed when a fan asked him to comment on the brothel scene. Also when a fan asked him what it’s like to play opposite Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne of Tarth. She’s 6″3′ while he’s 5″11′.

So what did they learned from their experiences?

“Carrying children,” says Nairn. That and asking permission for things.

Portman says it takes a lot of practice on horses to look bad at horse riding.