On a purely visual basis, The Boxtrolls is one of the most inventive animated films in some time. Like Laika predecessors Paranorman and Coraline, it’s animated in tremendously tactile stop-motion. Its troglodytic characters are cast amongst the cobblestone streets of a 18th century minor metropolis which brings to mind, variously: the spindly grotesquery of the Quentin Blake illustrations that graced many a Roald Dahl novel; the lo-fi inventiveness of magician-cum-moviemaker Georges Méliès; and the dioramic steampunk of Mordheim.
The innovation found in the film’s charming animation isn’t shared with its storyline. While tonally it shares some grimness with its oft-moonlit, grubby setting – it’s quite dark for a children’s film; more Grimm than Disney – the narrative is quite familiar. We follow the adventures of adopted Boxtroll, “Eggs” (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) who drives his inarticulate parcel people (like a less cutesy Despicable Me) from meek pacifism to nakedly violent revolt against the inevitably corrupt aristocracy – represented by the sneering Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) and corpulent Snatcher (Ben Kingsley, channelling Barry Humphries).
There aren’t any substantial surprises to be unpacked from The Boxtrolls, but it maintains interest with idiosyncratic voice performances (the aforementioned actors plus Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Richard Ayoade) and its memorably misshapen Claymation.