Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Boxtrolls

Year 9, Day 145 - 5/25/17 - Movie #2,640

BEFORE: Jared Harris carries over from "I Shot Andy Warhol", or at least his voice does, and switching over to animated films for a few days allows me to rescue a few films from the "unlinkable" section of the watchlist.  I have sort of a connection with this film, since I used to work for the animation company that made it, or at least I worked in their New York rep's office, though we were absorbed into the Portland-based company for a few years.  So for a while there I got to go to events we hosted for "Coraline", "Corpse Bride" and "Paranorman" - not the big gala premieres or anything, just nights where we would take a bunch of ad agency creatives out to the movies and then rent out a nearby bar with a party room to buy them drinks and food.  Theoretically this was supposed to lead them to hire the company to make commercials, and we'd get our 10%.  It was kind of like what they do on "Mad Men", only with animation.

But this film was being produced around the time the company split in two, one division to make animated commercials and the other to make animated features, and they essentially dropped the company I worked for as an agent around the same time, so I never went to see "Boxtrolls" in the theater like I did for their other films.  And then a year or two later, the company I worked for folded, so it's taken me this long to get around to it.  This wasn't helped by the fact that this film went from PPV to commercial cable, somehow skipping premium cable, which is annoying because that's how I watch most of my movies.  I never understand this whole process, HBO and Showtime and Starz all have family-based channels, they must be desperate for new kids' movies, are they somehow not paying as much for them as Freeform TV is?  (This channel used to be the Family Channel, then it was Fox Family for a while, then ABC Family, now it's re-branded as Freeform.  Still doesn't explain how they outbid other channels to get this one, just to run it with commercials.  Ah, wait.  Now I get it.)

But it's possible this one just fell through the cracks in my system, and I don't want to let that happen again.  So I've decided to combine some of my lists together, now that I have access to both a pile of Academy screeners and whatever's on Netflix.  Plus, my current linking is still going to run out, around June 10 or so - and it would be helpful for me to be able to search the credits lists of the films that are NOT on the main watchlist, so I can better see what my options are, and highlight the films that I need to track down to keep the chain alive.  I think my best move is to make a new list on IMDB of the films that are airing now on cable (but not yet on the watchlist) and the films available to me on Academy screeners, and I can use the search function to find specific actors on that list.   If I can go through Netflix and find films there that are not anywhere else, I can add those to that list too.

Once the list is assembled, then I'll only have to do two quick searches for each actor in a film, and that will give me all of the linking options.  With luck I can then extend the viewing plan from June 10 until I leave for San Diego on July 19.

THE PLOT: A young orphaned boy raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collectors tries to save his friends from an evil exterminator.

AFTER: I had some trouble getting in to this one, there was a steep comprehension curve at first, and I'm not sure if that had more to do with the subject matter, the storytelling, or the thick British accents.  Sometimes with a film like "Trainspotting" or "Layer Cake" I know the actors are speaking English, but with such strong accents that my brain needs about a half-hour to get adjusted to it - unfortunately that means I could miss a lot of exposition information at the start of a film.  The Boxtrolls don't speak English, they chitter in a sort of nonsense language, so that was actually helpful because they had to mime everything.  Once the speaking parts started up, though, it was quite difficult for me.

(The boy hero, for example, is named "Eggs" but his real last name is Trubshaw - people tell stories of the Trubshaw baby, who was abducted by the trolls, but I thought they were saying "Drugstore", not "Trubshaw" and I kept wondering why he was the Drugstore Baby.)

The basics are that the Boxtrolls steal trash (and boxes, presumably) from the upper world, and then they return to the lower world to play music, build large mechanical devices, and sleep in their boxes.  I'm not sure if this is a metaphor for the lower class, or race relations, or refugees/homeless people, maybe all three.  The surface world society (literally the "upper" class) seems to have a caste system organized around the colors of their hats and the tasting of various cheeses.  It's all like some steampunk version of a Dr. Seuss world or something.

The main villain, Archibald Snatcher, is determined to catch all of the Boxtrolls when they roam the surface world, because he sees this as his way to advance in society, to get a white hat and to be invited into the cheese tasting rooms (even though he's allergic to cheese, so he's something of a walking contradiction...) As far as I can tell, Eggs, with the help of Winnie, investigates him to learn what's happened to the disappearing Boxtrolls, only to learn that Snatcher hasn't been killing them, but putting them to work for a more sinister purpose.

There's an interesting link to "I Shot Andy Warhol", since last night's film featured Candy Darling, and in this film, Snatcher also masquerades in drag, performing as a seductive "Madame Frou-Frou". And just as the Boxtrolls' method of recycling trash seems to project a trendy environmental message, someone here probably wanted to project a positive trendy image of transvestites - however, you can't really do that when it's the villain who puts on a dress.  So this then becomes a sticking point, because a man wearing a dress for a sinister purpose (seducing other men, presumably) just feeds into all of the negative stereotypes about transvestites and trans-gender people, focusing on the potential dishonest aspects of that.

(Animation doesn't really have a good track record with this subject - on "Family Guy" for example, the trans-gender character is Quagmire's father, and the usual running gag is that someone will have sex with her, then learn the truth and their immediate reaction is to vomit profusely.  Way to be insensitive, guys, especially since that character had no problem with the sex itself, only the mental reaction to learning of their partner's transgender status - and why is being sick considered an appropriate response, in this day an age?  Can someone please give Seth MacFarlane a clue that this is NOT OK?)

I think I may need to see "The Boxtrolls" a couple times to really evaluate it properly - watching it with commercials, late at night, probably wasn't the best way to do it.  My feeling right now is that it lacks some of the spirit that was evident in "Coraline" and "Paranorman".  (I rated "Coraline" a 9 and "Paranorman" an 8, while tonight's rating is much more noncommittal.)  There's no question that making stop-motion is an arduous process and therefore 330 people working on this film for 72 weeks is an enormous accomplishment, I just wish they had something more to show for it, I guess.

Also starring the voices of Ben Kingsley (last seen in "The Walk"), Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning (last seen in "Maleficent"), Toni Collette (last seen in "Tammy"), Tracy Morgan (last seen in "The Night Before"), Simon Pegg (last seen in "Star Trek Beyond"), Nick Frost (last seen in "The World's End"), Richard Ayoade (last seen in "The Watch"), Dee Bradley Baker (last heard in "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2"), Maurice LaMarche (ditto), Steve Blum (last heard somewhere in "Rogue One"), Nika Futterman, Pat Fraley, Fred Tatasciore (last heard in "Kung Fu Panda 3"), James Urbaniak, Brian George.

RATING: 5 out of 10 manhole covers

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