Director: Graham Annable & Anthony Stacchi.
Cast: (voices of) Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan.
DESPITE the onslaught of the digital era, the painstaking process of stop motion filmmaking refuses to die, and thank goodness for that.
If stop motion animation had gone the way of the movie intermission, we would have missed out on such recent gems as Frankenweenie, The Pirates! Band Of Misfits, Fantastic Mr Fox, Mary & Max, Coraline, and ParaNorman - some of the best films of the last five years.
Laika, the production company behind the latter two, are responsible for The Boxtrolls, another brilliant addition to the list of modern stop motion classics.
As with their previous two films, Laika has infused The Boxtrolls with a welcome layer of darkness amid the all-ages appeal. Based loosely on Alan Snow's book Here Be Monsters!, it follows the story of Eggs (voiced by Hempstead-Wright), a young boy who has been raised by the subterranean-dwelling Boxtrolls.
While the Boxtrolls are merely meek scavengers, they have been portrayed as baby-stealing cannibals by Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley), who heads up a team of troll exterminators and is waging his own war against the little monsters in the hopes of climbing the social ladder and become part of the ruling class.
It's up to Eggs and his new friend Winnie (Fanning) to rescue the Boxtrolls and reveal the truth about Snatcher.
There are some interesting ideas and fascinating themes at play here, but from a kids-eye view it's an enjoyable tale about doing the right thing, helping others, and looking out for your family, peppered with funny pratfalls and slapstick and a few "yucky" bits that the young 'uns (and oldies) will likely find funny.
But a great kids film should reveal extra layers as its audience ages, and The Boxtrolls has that in spades. Government wastefulness, the power of fear, racial prejudices, self-determination, non-nuclear families, and the nature of evil all get explored, and there are a number of very clever jokes that will sail over younger heads, including many from a pair of comically philosophical henchmen voiced by Frost and Ayoade.
They're just two names in a stellar voice cast. Kingsley's voicework is particularly outstanding, while youngsters Hempstead-Wright and Fanning lead the way well.
The look of the film is impressive. Set in the faux-British town of Cheesebridge, the film encompasses a mixture of Victorian-era, gothic and steampunk elements, but unlike some stop motion movies, The Boxtrolls is not afraid to dabble with computer-generated elements to enhance its world, pushing the boundaries between the old and the new.
As a result there are some shots and techniques not commonly seen in these styles of movies and which expand on some of the intriguing tricks and effects achieved in Coraline and ParaNorman.
The script is also sharp, barely wasting a second, developing its characters in unexpected ways, and using plenty of symbolism to "show not tell" - it's intelligent filmmaking that never talks down to its audience, which means the film will keep on giving with future re-watches.
In short, it's the kind of film that's a joy whether you're 11 or 77.