February 15, 2015

The Boxtrolls (2014)

Ben Kingsley, Elle Fanning

I read a fascinating article awhile back about Facebook's algorithm and how quickly your feed can change based on what you "like." Well, I made the mistake of "liking" Focus Features page, which subsequently fed me about 8,000 posts about The Boxtrolls -- the making of it, the trailers for it, and how it was doing at the box office each week. I actually un-liked the page it became so spammy. By extension, I sort of also already hated this movie. Just on principle.

So imagine my surprise when the movie turned out to be *gasp* good! It might sound naive, but I really didn't expect it. I mean, this is a cast headlined by Dakota Fanning's younger sister and a man people can't even differentiate from the actor who plays Professor X. The animation is done in claymation, giving it a bit of a crude, student project-y feeling at times--worlds away from the slick, computer animation seen in both Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon 2. Yes, yes, I know they're supposedly on the cutting edge of stop motion animation. Maybe I just don't like stop motion animation. It didn't help that all the characters were ugly. Not just the trolls and the villains--all of them.

But much like awkward high school students, a movie can get by on ugly characters if they are funny and/or have great personalities. The trolls, with their names reflected on the dirty little boxes they wear, are lovable enough even to overlook the fact that they don't really speak English, yet somehow the boy grows up learning to speak it. In a lesser movie, I'd spend at least an entire paragraph ranting about the stupidity of that. (No, but seriously, that really bothers me. More so than the chafing nature and voice of Winifred.)

What I did enjoy, beyond the charm of the trolls and their propensity to hide in their boxes like turtles, was the detail in the clothing of the characters. They may have all been ugly people living in a dirty time, but the textures and fabrication shown here perhaps should have snagged the animators a nomination for Best Costume Design and Make-up. I know the Academy doesn't break down separate portions of an animated film for different category nominations, but it should. If Merida's hair in Brave could carry that movie, people should be talking a lot more about the costumes in this movie.

The plot breaks down like a cross between Tarzan and Dances with Wolves, right down to the white man as savior. Just kidding. At least you don't have to watch Kevin Costner awkwardly say "tatanka" while dancing around making bull horns.

Final word: My faith is partially restored in the Oscar nomination process.

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