So, took the boyo to see The Boxtrolls a couple of weeks ago, and now I’m finally posting what I thought of it. Spoilers ahead!
Laika does not make easy children’s movies. I mean, there was some serious discussion in this house about Coraline once we saw it (“Wait, the boy isn’t in the book!” and “How come they added the boy to the movie, Mom?”, which Neil Gaiman talked about here, and possibly other places that I can’t recall), so I figured, going in, that this wasn’t going to be Despicable Me 2 or Toothless and Hiccup.
There were some things I actually liked quite a bit:
1. Winnie, the main female character, is really bloodthirsty. Like, she’s very into the ‘murdering box trolls’ story the villain is using to scare everyone and get what he wants. She’s actually offended and disappointed that the box trolls don’t want to eat her, and that they do not, in fact, have a river of blood in their lair. She is a melodramatic, slightly morbid, very neglected little girl, and she’s a really fun character who is not sweet or ‘likeable,’ and I really dug her.
2. There’s a point where Winnie figures out who Eggs, the main kid, is (he’s the child the box trolls supposedly kidnapped and ate ten years ago, which didn’t happen, obviously), and she’s explaining to Eggs what a father is.
Okay, Winnie’s father is an awful person. He’s the head of the White Hats, who are apparently the town’s ruling body, but they’re all obsessed with cheese to the point where Winnie’s father takes the money they raised to build a children’s hospital and spends it on an enormous block of cheese. One of his most consistent character traits is utterly ignoring everything Winnie tells him.
So Winnie describes a father as the person who raises you, loves you, listens to you, is never angry at you, and helps you.
The ‘never angry’ thing set off the warning bells for me–I mean, yes, she’s clearly describing an ideal that her own father doesn’t live up to, but she’s also describing an ideal that doesn’t exist. And what I like is, later on that description completely bites her in the ass. Because her father does not, in fact, magically come to his senses when Eggs tells him everything (he, in fact, willfully ignores evidence that is right there in front of him).
What I also like is that she dismisses the idea that the box troll, Fish, who took Eggs in, is a father figure–but the movie doesn’t. The movie shows us Fish raising Eggs, Fish listening to him, Fish taking care of him and helping him. In fact, when Eggs reunites with his human father, it’s even more clear that Eggs wasn’t raised by this guy; that, really, Eggs is more box troll than human kid. But it’s okay.
I like it when characters are allowed to be wrong. I like it when kids in movies are allowed to be kids and not just smart-assed mini-adults or kid-cliches. And it doesn’t take away from Winnie being awesome; it just illustrates that she’s lonely, and would really like a father who’s, you know, a father.
3. There are three henchmen in the movie. One of them is the psychopathic henchman who, if the villain told him to kill all the people in town who wear pink, would just cheerfully do it. The other two, however, think they’re the good guys–they’re ridding the town of the box troll menace. But as the movie goes on, they’re less and less sure of that. And while the stuff about Fish as a father figure might go over the head of a 7-year-old in the audience, the dialogue for those two characters makes their part of the story arc abundantly clear.
Everyone thinks they’re the good guy. Look at what you’re doing, though, and find out if you really are.
I’m honestly not sure what I think of the whole Snatcher/Madame Frou Frou thing (the main villain–Snatcher–has this female alter-ego over whom all the men in town who absolutely despise Snatcher adore and make fools of themselves). And I’m thinking a lot, off and on, about that trope of benignly neglectful parents that you get in, say, Diana Wynne Jones and Neil Gaiman–it’s interesting, the things you never considered when you were a kid and reading or seeing them, but that trouble you a bit when you’re an adult (and a parent).