What They Say:
From the creators of Coraline and ParaNorman comes a magical family adventure about heroes of all shapes and sizes: The Boxtrolls. Quirky, mischievous and good-hearted, these box-wearing creatures have lovingly raised a human boy named “Eggs” in a charming cavern below the bustling streets of Cheesebridge. But when evil Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) decides to capture the lovable misfits, it’s up to Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and his feisty young friend, Winnie (Elle Fanning), to save the Boxtrolls. Also featuring the voice talents of Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Toni Collette, and Tracy Morgan.
Please note: We looked at the Blu-ray portion of this release as we do not have a 4K setup:
The audio presentation for this release is pretty solid as we get the Blu-ray itself with the 5.1 mix while also coming with French and Spanish language dubs that are in stereo at a lower encoding format. The film is one that largely utilizes its mix well but it’s also a project that leans more to the forward soundstage without a lot sent to the rear channels during the bulk of it. When the action hits and things get moving, and certainly through the music, it’s pretty active and works well. But the bulk of the film is about the dialogue and it plays well across the forward soundstage.The quieter moments are clear and free of problems as they’re at a good level and you’re not straining to figure out what was said while the bigger moments don’t overwhelm but capture the right level of scale. It’s a really good mix that fits the material itself and there’s such great warmth at times to the dialogue that it draws you in easily.
Originally in theaters in 2014, the film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The film isn’t terribly long so the encoding has plenty of space to work with even with all the extras and that results in a gorgeous-looking release. The stop-motion animation really is taken up a few steps in the film itself with the designs of the characters and the settings and all of this detail and blending comes in beautifully throughout it. While some of its aesthetic choices may not be to my taste or anything, they’ve so captured the look and the design of the source material with the whole thing that it’s just pretty much as close as pristine as you can imagine. The really active areas of the film are just smooth and clean looking as it unfolds and you can really get into checking out the detail and what went into the production in the quieter ones when you have the chance to just soak it all up. It’s the kind of project that just looks so good in this format that I can’t imagine what a 4K version must look like.
The packaging for this new release comes in a steelbook that really allows for the artwork to pop beautifully. The top gives us a bit of a darker look to things with Snatcher and his ilk, which lets the film title stand out well, while below it is the brighter and more chaotic and colorful artwork to shine as we get to see Eggs and Winnie together along with so much more. The colors lean into a lot of purples and such and it certainly has the illustration style that works well with the look of the stop-motion design so that it’s quite appealing. It stands out well on the shelf too, especially since the color design with the steelbook material hits a sweet spot. The back of the steelbook goes into the darker side of things with Snatcher proper and more of his ilk and that provides a nice contrast and connection with the outgoing front cover. The set comes with an onsert that provides the standard things such as the premise, a breakdown of features, and the technical side of it all as well.
The set comes with some pretty extensive extras for those that want to dive into the film and what went into it. I used to be very into these things myself back in the 80s so I totally get the appeal of it and how inspirational it can be for younger viewers that may discover what they want to do in life. The set has a number of good pieces that show off how it was all put together, a look at the storyboards, and digging into the puppeteering of it all. I mean, the film ends with a great if brief sequence showing how a sequence is animated/moved, and that alone makes you want to know more. The original featurettes from the production ahead of its debut are included and we also get a full-length commentary from the directors. Add in lots of concept art and visuals from it in galleries and you can really sink your teeth into all of it.
I’ve got a really mixed relationship when it comes to Laika productions which frustrates me to some degree. I’ve liked a number of their works over the years but it really is a hit-or-miss thing for me. I grew up with stop motion stuff during what you could call its final days of the original run of them decades ago but the resurgence of it in the 90s was something that was interesting but felt like it fell into something where it couldn’t get beyond essentially working as fairy tales. It’s similar to my frustration with animation out of Hollywood where it’s just for kids and working some elements in for adults. I’m not against there being stuff like this for kids, but I had hoped that Laika would be able to shake that a bit because Coraline, while falling into that trap to some degree, at least with some real scares, tension, and uncertainty that most other projects don’t. The Boxtrolls was the third film from the outfit that landed in 2014 with it coming from directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi from a screenplay by Irena Brignull and Adam Pava. That in turn was based on the 2005 novel Here be Monsters! by Alan Snow.
The premise for this introduces us to an amusing town called Cheesebridge which is basically a really highly stacked city that plays to the fairy tale stuff. The city has its social classes set up as you’d expect from something playing to the Victorian era and within it those that wield some power in the boys club that exists all wear White Hats. It’s the elite and power players but they mostly get together to do simple stuff like enjoy food and just be above everyone else. It’s not an unfamiliar view of setting up social/class structures in this kind of environment as we get introduced to Archibald Snatcher, a man who has promised to deal with the problem the city is facing with boxtrolls. These creatures live within the underground part of the society and have a grand old time living free but they naturally steal things that they need to exist from humans. They’re pretty innocent overall but they make for a good boogeyman.
Within this, Snatcher has made a deal that the White Hats haven’t exactly fully agreed to in that if he gets rid of all the Boxtrolls that he’ll go from the red hat he wears to a White Hat. Status and being a part of elite society is all that he wants and is promising that ascent to those that work for him, though they’d still be subordinate to him overall. Snatcher, naturally, goes all-in on catching the Boxtrolls and puts a pretty grim group out there to do it. What complicates things for Snatcher is that the Whtie Hat he’s dealing with, Lord Portley-Rind, has a young daughter named Winnie who isn’t quite sure the tale of the Boxtrolls is as dark and grim as the adults are playing it. And her investigation leads her to coming across a few of them but also something unexpected – a Boxtroll named Eggs who is actually a human boy. Eggs has been raised among them for years and is part of a bigger story of the past that haunts the city, which is pretty obvious early on to adults at the least.
Eggs is a lot of fun as he just views himself as a Boxtroll that’s able to speak the human language as well and he’s simply a lot of fun to watch as he plays through this world, connecting with Winnie as she tries to understand what’s going on here, and as they evade Snatcher and his cronies for a while until it all comes to a head with the reveals that unearth a dangerous past. The film does give Snatcher his moment of victory along the way, and boy does he overplay it, but it’s balanced by showing that the White Hats are pretty terrible themselves. If not in actual action but by how either useless they truly are or the way they set themselves as superior and better. It doesn’t align you with Snatcher in the slightest as he’s still hunting undesirables who haven’t really done anything, but there are moments where Snatcher could have instead been the hero of the story and highlighted how badly the social structure of the city is designed.
There are a lot of interesting things to look at with the film because like most things that play within the fairy tale realm it explores the social and power structures and how ordinary people fit within it, often from a place of being oppressed. The Boxtrolls themselves don’t get a lot of attention in a way because it’s focused more on Eggs and his dynamic with Winne as they face off against Snatcher, but there’s enough of it in there to help set the tone for that bigger view. But like a lot of films of this nature, it both has to keep it simple for the younger intended audience while not giving them the kind of challenge that young minds need. It’s solid in what it does and it presents the concepts well enough within the framework it operates under, but it’s just simple enough to not really make it fully engaging. Eggs and Winnie definitely stand out well but the more time I spent with it the more it felt like Snatcher’s story is the one that needed to be the focus and reoriented through with Eggs and Winnie helping him to change the status quo.
The Boxtrolls is a film that I definitely understand why it works and why it appeals but it falls short of me from the start with its approach and view. When things get to the end, yes, there’s a change in the status quo of things but it’s nothing more than just a gifted acceptance that can be taken away and those that are threatened are still subject to the same powers that be that exist there, which are either completely inept or just plain bad. Shout! Factory puts together a fantastic release here for fans of it with a really great encoding, a 4K release that must surely take it to the next level, and a steelbook that just pops beautifully on the shelf. It’s loaded with a slew of extras that gives fans of the film a chance to really experience the world and all that went into it. It’s not my cup of tea overall, but it’s a fantastic set.
English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Dolby Atmos 7.1 Language, Spanish Dolby Digital, French Dolby Digital, Inside LAIKA: Discovering the Characters of The Boxtrolls Featuring Rare Test Footage, Inside LAIKA: Revisiting the Puppets with LAIKA’s Animation Team, Feature-Length Storyboards, Character Art and Concept Art, Photo Gallery, Foreword by Ramin Zahed, the Editor-in-Chief of Animation Magazine, Audio Commentary with Directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, Dare to Be Square: The Making of The Boxtrolls, and Original Featurettes/
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A-
Extras Grade: A
Released By: Shout! Factory
Release Date: February 28th, 2023
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
This review was done with a review copy provided by the publisher. We are grateful for their continued support.