If you’re ready for Halloween, “The Boxtrolls” is a perfect movie to usher in the season.
Created by the same people behind “Coraline” and “ParaNorman,” “Boxtrolls” is an imaginative, lighthearted and macabre piece of stop-motion puppet animation that evokes memories of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and the vibe of classic early Tim Burton films like “Beetlejuice” and “Edward Scissorhands.”
The film is set in Cheesebridge, a period-ambiguous fictional village where fromage is the golden calf of choice. The town also happens to be home to a curious race of mechanically inclined creatures called Boxtrolls, little green goblin creatures that wear cardboard boxes for clothes and come out at night to sift through garbage for spare parts.
When the Boxtrolls kidnap a baby early in the film, Lord Portley-Rind (voiced by Jared Harris) hires a sinister social climber named Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley) to get rid of the loathsome creatures. Not because of the kidnapping, but rather because Snatcher insists that the Boxtrolls will be coming for their precious cheese next.
Snatcher’s ambition is to join the town elite, who are distinguished by their exclusive white hats and lavish cheese-tasting parties. In exchange for ridding the town of its pests, Lord Portley-Rind reluctantly promises Snatcher a white hat and a seat at the tasting table.
There’s only one problem: the Boxtrolls aren’t really bad guys, and there is more to the “kidnapping” than the townspeople know. While his story turns to cautionary legend, the baby grows up among his cardboard-favoring friends, who are being pilfered by Snatcher a few at a time during regular extermination hunts. Now known as Eggs — all the Boxtrolls are named for whatever happens to be the most prominent illustration on their boxes — he lives underground with his adopted community, scavenging garbage and listening to barbershop quartet music in the Boxtrolls’ vast underground cavern.
Eventually Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) goes exploring among the human-folk, and discovers that he isn’t a Boxtroll. Along the way, he also falls for Winnie (Elle Fanning), the daughter of Lord Portley-Rind, and discovers that all the Boxtrolls that Snatcher has grabbed over the years are still alive and working in the exterminator’s factory. More wackiness ensues.
Kingsley is a riot as Snatcher, and the supporting cast also features the talents of Nick Frost and Tracy Morgan. But the real stars may be voice actors Steve Blum and Dee Bradley Baker, who are responsible for the amusing, unintelligible Boxtroll “language” that underscores the film’s tone.
“Boxtrolls” manages to hit all of its marks, combining an original story with fantastic characters and witty writing, and clever animation that puts the best of today’s CGI to shame. There’s just something about the character of quality stop-motion animation that is captivating and perfect for the quirky Halloween season.
The entire production is chock-full of campy humor and visual charm that should appeal to a variety of audiences, but parents may decide “Boxtrolls” is a little too creepy for the youngest of the young. Even so, “Boxtrolls” is probably going to be the best 2014 family-friendly Halloween option in theaters by a long shot.
“The Boxtrolls” is rated PG for action, some peril and mild rude humor.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. More of his work is at woundedmosquito.com.