The Boxtrolls review: an awesome family film about moral determinism

The Boxtrolls
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Director: Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable
Cert: PG
Genre: Animation
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Dee Bradley Baker
Running Time: 1 hr 36 mins

Expect many reviewers to ask whether the latest animation from Laika – the studio behind Coraline and ParaNorman – is too scary for frail young children. There are certainly a fair few gruesome diversions in this terrific Gothic fable. Set in a perilously towering city named Cheesetown, the loose adaptation of Alan Snow's Here Be Monsters series concerns a tribe of well-intentioned troglodytes that appears to have abducted a human baby and made it their own.

Along the way, the most evil character mutates into an acromegalic mass of pustules, the trolls are forced into slave labour and a kind of genocide appears to take place. Nobody will mistake the film for My Little Pony.

It shouldn't need to be said (again) that children lap up this sort of gleeful horror. Set beside the stories of the Brothers Grimm, The Boxtrolls – its bones warmed by relentless black humour – seems like something of a bank-holiday romp. Presented in the studio's trademark enhanced stop-motion, the movie follows young Eggs as, after a childhood in the Boxtrolls' nether world, he comes to question his identity and seek a life with his human counterparts. It's a grim, hierarchical city. Pompous idiots in white hats rule society. Mean monsters in red hats seek to exterminate the trolls.

Featuring magnificent voice work from the likes of Ben Kingsley and Elle Fanning, the picture lives up to Laika's high standards of imaginative artifice. But it is most remarkable for its attempts to grapple with philosophical quandaries. If you're looking for a family film that questions moral determinism then Boxtrolls is your only man. Don't fret. The kids are up to it.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist