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The Boxtrolls (2014)
Excellent animated fantasy.
Get ready to enjoy a beautifully crafted world with stunningly well animated characters. If you're familiar with Laika's other films, this will come as no surprise. As before, the visuals are worth the price of admission. And as before, I was left hungry for more.
The film itself is a well-told fantasy full of silliness and whimsy, but there's depth and meaning as well. It could be argued that this is a kids film about ethnic cleansing and genocide(!), but it's all handled in the best possible taste. Somehow they managed to pull this off without ever being too heavy or inappropriate. This isn't going to provoke nightmares or scar anyone for life, and is neither heavy-handed nor patronizing in getting its lesson across. An example of this would be the villain's henchmen, who spend much of the film in the mistaken belief that they're the good guys. It's not so much a film about good vs evil, as it is good vs foolishness.
It's also a world with a visible class system, where aloof aristocrats are so distracted with their ridiculous hobby that real world problems are neglected. There are interesting parallels to be drawn in this subtle bit of social commentary. From my perspective this was essentially apolitical, I don't expect any particular group to take offense at this. It shows the folly of aspiring to empty symbols of status.
There's more than enough going on in the film that you don't really have to think about any of this if you prefer to just sit back and be entertained. You could easily spend another viewing just taking in the beautifully detailed sets full of crooked buildings on cobble-stoned streets, and the immaculately tailored costumes, all of it so tactile and vivid in three dimensions you'll want to reach out. If you're the kind of person that would love to interact and play around with all these props and puppets, I recommend seeing it in 3d. It's like having them right there in front of you.
Aside from the window dressing, there's good characterisations all round. The Box Trolls themselves are particularly adorable, and endlessly amusing with their antics. Watching them bounce around and assemble themselves into various formations was a thrill. Expect some of the most inventive animation seen to date.
Stick around during the credit roll, there's a final post/mid credit scene that will make your jaw drop. The talent involved with the stop-motion animation makes this film a joy to behold.
Overall, I'd go so far as to say it's a future classic. It seems destined to be fondly remembered for years to come.
Un monstre à Paris (2011)
Awkward concept that almost works.
This is not quite Pixar, but not quite awful either. It goes for a polished look similar to what we've seen in mainstream American animation, with the soft-lit cartoonish CG similar to that of Dreamworks and Pixar, and comes very close to matching their visual flair despite a more modest budget. It's pretty clear that they're hoping for commercial appeal rather than art-house obscurity here, but the film wants to have it both ways, mixing clichéd humor and characters with artistic flourishes and occasional moments of brilliance. There should be more than enough here to appeal to kids.
It's a pleasant enough experience overall and ultimately it wins you over ... but at the same time in a lot of ways it doesn't quite make it. For starters the whole story concept is painfully contrived. But this much is clear even from the shortest synopsis, so I was prepared going in.
Among the highlights of the film are the many appealing visuals drawn from the period Parisian setting. Another highlight is the rich musical score. These almost make the film a cut above, were it not weighed down by some of the more mundane elements.
On the whole it's flawed, but it does have its moments, and is worth a look.
Decent enough low budget effort.
Decent enough low budget effort. Good storyline and ending. Not what you'd call scary though.
A few eccentric touches here and there help. The best characters in this is the child and Nick the blackmailer. The other actors aren't bad, but it could have been a much better movie if they had been more engaging. For instance, the romance between Tom and his fiancé doesn't really work. Now maybe he's just marrying for the money, but her character is the most under-developed. If either she or the old girlfriend had been stronger characters, they could have brought some real drama to the proceedings.
There's a lot of optical effects, some better than others. Some of the ghost effects are unusual. In most composites of the lighthouse, the perspective doesn't line up correctly. Other than that, the production values are adequate for this sort of thing. Solid enough B-movie, but on the whole, nothing special.