Enter into a world where boxes get a bad rap, cheese eaters are supreme, and a bratty girl turns out to have a heart.
In this era of alternative families, The Boxtrolls is a multi-generational movie that demonstrates that it is love that makes a real family, rather than biology. Adapted from the children’s book Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow, The Boxtrolls are a band of quirky creatures, who live in an underground cavern beneath the posh Victorian-era town of Cheesebridge. The Boxtrolls — trolls who wear boxes — come out at night to harmlessly dumpster dive for discarded treasure, but unbeknownst to them, they have been given a very bad rap: The townsfolk of Cheesebridge believe they eat human babies.
But they’re actually a timid, fun-loving group that took in an orphaned human baby boy, which is when the misguided rumors began. Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), named after the picture on the box he wears to more resemble his adoptive family, has been showered with love and attention his entire life. So when the town’s villain, Archibald Snatcher (Sir Ben Kingsley), vows to rid Cheesebridge of Boxtrolls forever, Eggs resolves to do whatever it takes to save his family.
When we think of Kingsley, we think of the more serious roles he’s played, such as his Academy Award-winning role in Ghandi, or the other three films for which was nominated — Sexy Beast, Bugsy, and House of Sand and Fog — not some cartoon villain, but Kingsley says that acting is his living and if a script is good, why not?
“I don’t want to shut myself into a corner,” he says. “You can be a bit damned by the myth of being a ‘serious actor.’ It’s nonsense. There’s no such thing as a serious actor, or rather, bad actors are quite serious. They make themselves very serious.”
It almost goes without saying that Snatcher was the one who started the gory rumors about the Boxtrolls, and it’s no surprise that his volunteering to take on the job of eliminating them once and for all is for purely selfish means. His goal in doing so is to join an elite group, known as the White Hats, who are cheese eaters (Cheese being a metaphor for power in Cheesebridge.)
“Perfectly consistent with his character, [Snatcher] is allergic to that which he craves. It’s a very, very common condition, I’m afraid,” Kingsley says. “And to be the dark force, fighting against a whole tribe of wonderful, life-affirming, life-enhancing, sweet creatures and two orphans, fighting against that, I have to bring a force and an energy to the piece that will allow the children to fight back.”
While planning the rescue, Eggs meets Winnie (Elle Fanning), whose father is the head of the White Hats and, while not actually an orphan, she might as well be for all the notice her father pays her.
“She feels like her dad cares more about cheese than he does her. She just wants to get attention from anyone, especially him, though. That’s her goal,” says Fanning. “I think kids, for sure, like attention. [Winnie’s] is an extreme case, definitely very exaggerated. Luckily for me, I felt like my parents pretty much always paid attention.”
Winnie takes some getting used to. She is not a typically sweet heroine. While initially terrified of the Boxtrolls, she is also fascinated by the bloodthirsty tale that they eat babies. Once she discovers that that is not the case, she agrees to help Eggs save his family.
“I think the audience at first doesn’t want to like her because she’s so spoiled, but as the movie goes on, you get to see her sensitive side and you realize that she just wants attention from her dad and she means well,” Fanning says. “She’s not mean. You respect her sass at the end, and like when the attitude comes out.”
The decision to voice the character of Winnie in The Boxtrolls, the latest feature-length film from Laika, the Oregon-based, stop-motion studio that also produced Coraline and ParaNorman, was an easy one for Fanning. It was simply a matter of following in big sis Dakota’s footsteps.
“She worked on Coraline for seven or eight years, while I was still small,” Fanning says. “So I feel like I’ve known about Laika and I’ve known about stop motion for a while. I went to Portland with my sister when she was visiting the Coraline set… Going into it, I knew what to expect.”