If Charles Dickens, Roald Dahl, and Tim Burton all teamed up to make a feature-length, stop-motion animation, the results would probably look a lot like The Boxtrolls. And that’s a compliment of the highest order. Set in the fictional turn-of-the-century European town of Cheesebridge, The Boxtrolls tells the story of a bunch of sweet and curious creatures who wear discarded boxes over their midsections, live in a cavern of industrial wonders below the city’s cobblestone streets, and sneak up to the surface through manhole covers to go digging through trash for troll treasures once all the humans go to sleep.
In this story, one of the treasures they bring home is an infant, whom they name Eggs, after the egg crate the trolls give him to wear as his “box.” Eggs grows up with no idea that he is human, believing himself to be a boxtroll, too. Unfortunately, Eggs’s disappearance as a child gives villain Archibald Snatcher the perfect excuse to turn the town of Cheesebridge against the benign boxtrolls, convincing citizens that these below-ground creatures prey on humans. Snatcher strikes a deal with town leader Lord Portley-Rind: If he exterminates every last boxtroll in town, Portley-Rind will induct Snatcher into “The White Hats,” Cheesebridge’s most elite echelon. When Eggs’s boxtroll guardian, Fish, is abducted by Snatcher and his henchmen, Eggs ventures out into the human world to save the trolls and, over the course of his adventure, uncovers the secrets of his past and the direction of his destiny.
The Boxtrolls is one of those pitch-perfect animated films that fires on all cylinders for its pint-sized audience and works like gangbusters for accompanying adults. The visuals dazzle at every turn, the jokes come fast and furious (and are genuinely funny), and even if the moral of this story (“be yourself”) isn’t exactly groundbreaking, the film still manages to spin off in compelling and complicated directions when it deals with the darker leanings of human nature (cowardice, greed, outright fascism). The Boxtrolls should come with one of those board-game box stickers because it really is fun for all ages.