2014 Running time: 90 Certificate: pg Rating: 4

Synopsis

Alan Snow's children's bestseller Here Be Monsters is transformed into another animated delight by the studio behind Coraline and ParaNorman. Beneath the olde worlde streets of Cheesebridge, an orphan called Eggs is raised by a community of shy but demonised junk collectors called Boxtrolls. Hunted down by a scheming pest exterminator (Ben Kingsley), the cardboard-clad critters must rely on Eggs to prevent their species ending up on the scrapheap. With an eclectic voice cast (including Elle Fanning, Nick Frost, Toni Collette and Tracy Morgan) to complement the busy mix of stop-motion, CG and hand-drawn animation, there's more to this package than meets the eye.

Directors

  • Graham Annable

  • Anthony Stacchi

Cast

  • Isaac Hempstead Wright

  • Elle Fanning

  • Ben Kingsley

  • Nick Frost

  • Jared Harris

  • Toni Collette

  • Simon Pegg

Review

Never mind ice-sculpting princesses and toys whose owner has outgrown them, what the kids really need are more stories revolving around malicious propaganda, civic corruption and attempted genocide. And the less cute the heroes, the better.

Having scored hits with the button-eyed fiends of Coraline and the undead hordes of ParaNorman, the fearless Laika Studio embraces the darker side of family entertainment once more with this richly rendered tale of card-carrying cave-dwellers trying to save themselves from a town full of cheese-obsessed maniacs.

Yes, it's troglodytes versus turophiles when the council of Cheesebridge, led by the heartless Lord Portly-Rind (Jared Harris), employs rotten verminator Archibald Catcher (Kingsley, on fine Fagin-esque form) to vanquish the "evil" boxtrolls that creep out every night to eat the town's babies.

Of course, that's all slanderous rubbish spread by Catcher, who merely needs the place under curfew until he stamps out the scourge, thus earning his place among the big cheeses in the town hall.

Boxtrolls are actually as harmless as mild cheddar, although they do nick anything that isn't nailed down to make fancy contraptions down in the catacombs.

And the only baby they ever laid hands on has been living happily amongst them since being literally dropped into their care a decade earlier.

But while young Eggs (Game of Thrones' Isaac Hempstead Wright) has grown, his boxtroll family has shrunk, picked off one-by-one by Catcher and his henchmen - the malevolent Mr Gristle (Morgan), the philosophical Mr Trout (Frost), and the doubtful Mr Pickles (Richard Ayoade).

The last straw comes when they capture Eggs' surrogate father Fish (boxtrolls are named after the original contents of the boxes they wear). Needing help from above, Eggs finds an ally in Winnie (Fanning), Lord Portly-Rind's feisty daughter.

What's great about this is that none of the characters you're supposed to root for is made instantly appealing. Eggs is a weaselly oik with a Suarez-like attitude to biting, while Winnie is a blotchy-faced bossyboots in the mould of Just William's nemesis Violet Elizabeth Bott.

Nor are the boxtrolls themselves the cuddliest creations in the animated kingdom, either. (It's actually a mystery how their species continues in the first place, since there don't appear to be any females...)

Visually, it's the antithesis of Disney; a musty, crusty world whose scurvy denizens are generally as gross as regurgitated Roquefort.

But it all makes for a winning whole, the many wry and sly amusements of the script capped by some particularly well-timed animated and musical punchlines (one pun on street names is brilliantly dropped and Monty Python fans couldn't ask for a more satisfying finale). The drollness even extends to the closing credits.

An object lesson in acceptance and the perils of eating too much cheese, The Boxtrolls is crate fun.

Elliott Noble