The Boxtrolls


I'll have some eggs with that.

I’ll have some eggs with that.

(2014) Animated Feature (Focus) Starring the voices of Ben Kingsley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Dee Bradley Baker, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, Steve Blum, Nika Futterman, Pat Fraley, Fred Tatasciore, Max Mitchell, Maurice LaMarche, Laraine Newman, Brian George. Directed by Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable

We have a tendency to look down upon those who aren’t members of our economic and/or ethnic stratum. If we are rich, the poor receive our disdain. If we are middle-class, we hate the rich. If we are white, we mistrust those whose skin tones are darker. And of course, right back at the whites from the other ethnic groups.

We might paraphrase Tom Lehrer when talking about this film; “All the red hats hate the white hats, and the white hats hate the red hats…and everybody hates the Boxtrolls.” That’s because these underground dwellers who come to the surface each night to scavenge refuse and spare parts have stolen a baby and killed his father, which according to exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley) was for a delectable Boxtroll delicacy. Snatcher, a red hat, has long coveted a white hat and sees the Boxtrolls as his ticket to le chapeau blanc. Lord Portley-Rind (Harris), whose main concern is cheese – the town of Cheesebridge is famous for their fromage – absently grants Snatcher his wish. Provided, of course, that he rids the town of every last one of the vermin.

The problem is with the scenario is that the Trubshaw baby isn’t residing in the belly of a Boxtroll. Nor is he even dead. The kindly Boxtrolls have adopted the young orphan and given him a box of his own to hide in – the Boxtrolls are timid creatures who have learned to hide and run rather than stand and fight. True to their custom, they have named the boy Eggs after the product that was stored in the box that he wears and uses as a convenient hiding place. Therefore other Boxtrolls are named Fish, Shoe, Fragile and Oil Can.

Winnie (Fanning), the spoiled daughter of Lord Portley-Rind, is fascinated by the Boxtrolls and by blood, guts and grimness in general. She is further fascinated by them when she discovers that a young boy her age is with them, although nobody believes her tale. When Eggs (Wright) returns to the surface during a cheese festival to try and stop the humans from stealing his friends and releasing those who are imprisoned, he runs into Winnie. She of course doesn’t believe his assertion that the Boxtrolls are gentle and far from dangerous. They are builders, not destroyers.

As it turns out, Snatcher has a fiendish plan in mind which if his henchmen Trout (Frost) and Pickles (Ayoade) had known about they might have had a philosophical issue with. It would mean the extermination of every Boxtroll in town – including Eggs. And as Lord Portley-Rind obliviously chews his cheese, his daughter Winnie realize that it will be up to her and Eggs to save the day if the Boxtrolls are to survive.

Based on a lavishly illustrated almost 600 page children’s book by British author Alan Snow entitled Here Be Monsters, this is the third movie from Laika, the stop-motion animation studio that previously brought us Coraline and ParaNorman. Like those films there is definitely a supernatural bent to the movie. Like those films, the painstaking process includes a fantastically detailed background with meticulously crafted characters.

Kingsley’s normally mild voice is given a kind of over-the-top Cockney villain infusion, breathing life into a character who has allowed his dreams to warp him. He will achieve that goal no matter what it costs and the devil help whomever gets in his way because God surely won’t. Equal parts Snidely Whiplash, Wile E. Coyote, the Child Catcher (from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and Monty Python, Archibald Snatcher is a memorable villain who will delight children and adults alike.

So too will the environment created both in the town, which is perched on a hill much like the Wedding Cake town of Gondor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy while the underground home of the Boxtrolls is filled with Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions, unexpected beauty and plenty of gross protein. The entrance into their world is through fun looking slides which would be a slam dunk if Universal ever decides to put a Boxtrolls-themed play area for children in one of its theme parks.

Although Laika is based in the Pacific Northwest, the movie has a definite British sensibility (the source material is, after all, English) not only in the accents but also in the humor; all it lacks is Graham Norton skulking about looking for celebrities to interview. Anglophobes, take note.

Also the story is a bit simplistic which of course comes with the territory when adapting children’s books. While there is plenty of subversive class conscious mockery going on, there are definite bad guys and good guys. Even Archibald Snatcher’s motivation isn’t too hard to understand; if this weren’t geared for kids I suspect they would have made the character a little less malevolent and more sympathetic. I would have liked that myself because, after all, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to better your situation. The issue comes when you give up your humanity in order to do so and perhaps that’s the point they’re making, but even so I think it would have been more poignant if they’d made Archibald a decent fellow to begin with.

But that might not have worked so well with little kids who need someone with a black hat to boo. There is nothing really scary about the Boxtrolls other than maybe a scene or two when one or more of the characters is in grave peril but there isn’t anything wrong with bringing your littlest tykes into this one. It’s fun, there’s a definite Halloween vibe to it and adults will be as enchanted as their rugrats at the movies and in a year of mediocre family entertainment at best, this one stands out as pure gold.

REASONS TO GO: Wacky and as enchanting for adults as it is for kids. Kingsley voices one of the greatest villains of recent animated films. Beautiful stop-motion animation.
REASONS TO STAY: May be too British for some. Plot can be simplistic.
FAMILY VALUES:  A bit of rude humor, some peril and a bit of animated action. Okay for most kiddies.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Pegg and Frost, good friends in real life, didn’t find out until after they’d recorded their portions of the dialogue that they’d both lent their voices to the movie.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/21/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 63/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Monsters, Inc.
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Trade

Outsourced (2006)


Josh Hamilton is a colorful character.

Josh Hamilton is a colorful character.

(2006) Comedy (ShadowCatcher) Josh Hamilton, Ayesha Dharker, Matt Smith, Asif Basra, Sudha Shivpuri, Bhuvanesh Shetty, Jeneva Talwar, Suarab Agarwal, Larry Pine, Ketan Mehta, Dipesh Shah, Urmi Mukherjee, Bharat Sarjerao Adhangle, Arjun Mathur. Directed by John Jeffcoat

 

We Americans don’t really mix well in other cultures. Perhaps it’s because most of us are descended from people who have fled from other places – heck, even the aboriginals had to cross a land bridge to get here. We are woefully ignorant of cultures that are different than ours, particularly those from places that are far away from where our ancestors started out.

Todd (Hamilton) works for a Seattle-based novelty manufacturing company whose telemarketing division is being laid off – in fact, he’s given the task of laying them off. Then he’s shipped off to India, tasked with training his own replacement. How bad does that suck? But it has been a reality of business for some time now.

In India he finds a call center that might be modern in some ways but it is woeful compared to their American counterparts as are the operators. The young man Todd is training, Purohit (Basra) is eager enough to learn and is quite courteous and in a lot of ways like Todd himself, a good guy. The two men begin to bond, Todd lost in the Indian culture that surrounds him, Purohit lost in the American culture that he has chosen a career selling.

Purohit needs this job because the salary will allow him to finally marry the girl of his dreams. Todd also finds himself falling for a pretty operator named Asha (Dharker) who is sensible, whip-smart and a bit more inclined towards Western customs than many of her peers. However, she has been committed by her parents into an arranged marriage since she was four years old.

However, the corporate commitment to an Indian workforce is about as solid as thin ice. Already they’re thinking of outsourcing the outsourced work to China. In order to save the jobs in India, Todd will have to commit his crew to a higher bar than he’s ever set which might just net him a career move that will take him into the executive level he’s been waiting for. But what does he really want – a life or a career?

This is one of those movies that came and went, getting almost zero distribution. It hung around long enough to inspire an NBC sitcom that ran a couple of years later for a season. Some may remember the sitcom which had a small but fiercely loyal following. In my opinion, the show which did have its charms was not quite so charming as this. The movie has a surprising amount of heart.

Part of the reason the movie works is the believable chemistry between veteran character actor Hamilton and Bollywood star Dharker (best known in the states for playing Queen Jamillia in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones). They make a cute couple in every sense of the phrase.

Part of making a successful fish out of water cultural clash movie is that you need to have a really solid understanding of both cultures involved and quite frankly that’s where this movie falls down a bit. It plays too much to the American stereotypes of India, from Bollywood dance numbers to arranged marriages to the general sanitation issues. Now I haven’t been to India myself but I do know that the country is a lot more than that. I suppose when dealing with American audiences you have to paint with broad strokes, but the filmmakers missed an opportunity to give us a better understanding of India and her culture. Even watching a couple of random Bollywood films would give you more insight.

Still, I can understand the filmmakers decision to go this route. They wanted to make a movie that was sweet and funny and romantic and on those scores they get high marks. This isn’t a movie that will give you a thirst for visiting India, learning more about their culture or even heading to your local Indian restaurant. It is a pleasant diversion however and there’s nothing wrong with that.

WHY RENT THIS: Sweet-natured and requires little effort to enjoy. Hamilton and Dharker make an attractive couple.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little bit condescending towards Indian culture; plays to stereotypes.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of sexual content but nothing too overbearing.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jeffcoat was inspired to write the film based on his own experiences in India and Nepal.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a music video as well as a translation of Hindi dialogue from a few scenes in which no subtitles were provided (which was supposed to help illustrate the confusion that Todd felt).

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $703,042 on an unreported production budget; I’m thinking it wasn’t profitable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Life of Pi