'The Boxtrolls': What the Critics Are Saying

Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Tracy Morgan, Toni Collette, Simon Pegg and Isaac Hempstead-Wright lend their voices to Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi's stop-motion film

The Boxtrolls, out Friday, follows a boy named Eggs who was raised by cave-dwelling monsters, but has trouble adjusting to the civilized world. The stop-motion animated film, co-directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi and based on Alan Snow's 2006 novel Here Be Monsters!, touts a star-studded voice cast, including Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Tracy Morgan, Toni Collette, Simon Pegg, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade and Isaac Hempstead-Wright, among others.

Already a hit at the U.K. box office, the Laika and Focus Features 3D release is pacing to open in the $11 million to $15 million range."

Read what top critics are saying about The Boxtrolls:

The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney calls it a "stubbornly unappealing 3D toon" in comparison to Laika's Coraline and ParaNorman, especially since, "in adult terms, it’s a tale of class envy and attempted genocide," but likely targeting movegoers who are 8 to 14 years old. "There’s a crucial shortage of heart here, from the messy storytelling to the hit-or-miss humor and unattractive visuals. ... There’s no shortage of plot here, and yet somehow the film never gathers much steam, shuffling from one busy set-piece to the next without fostering investment in characters good or bad. ... The more dialogue-driven moments are often sluggish and dull."

Additionally, "the work of the voice cast is fine but rarely interesting enough to bust out from behind the artists’ lackluster character designs. Kingsley’s Snatcher is a particularly joyless villain, not least of all when he’s grotesquely bloated from cheese intolerance. Actors like Toni Collette, Tracy Morgan and Simon Pegg are wasted; the most entertaining contributions come from Ayoade and Frost as Snatcher’s incongruously cerebral sidekicks."

On the other hand, The New York Times' A.O. Scott says it "tells a familiar story with familiar themes and characters — misunderstood monsters; a repulsive villain with comical henchmen; a hero with an identity crisis — but it does so with refreshing wit and energy. At times it might be a little dark and scary for the very youngest viewers, but their slightly older siblings are likely to appreciate the way this movie balances the silly and the sinister, the creepy and the cute, the nasty and the nice. Adults may also find themselves amused. This one did, at any rate. ... [It] plays down sentimentality and didacticism in favor of clever verbiage and loving attention to visual detail. The expected lessons about self-reliance, open-mindedness and friendship are delivered without too much fuss or ceremony. Like much of the best animation, The Boxtrolls is above all a marvel of craft."

Los Angeles Times' Betsy Sharkey asks, "Such a top-heavy creative slate should deliver a great deal of delight. So why does The Boxtrolls slip and slide so perilously? ... He stumbling is primarily the result of an unwieldy story that reels wildly around a series of complicated issues. The animation and the plotting vie for attention." Still, it is charming: "That signature off-center orientation and the devotion to outsiders is always welcome in the animation house. And in the current conversation over what makes a family these days, boxtrolls make a good case for embracing different."

Time's Richard Corliss sees it as "weirdness with a cutting or cunning edge" that "lets the Laika animators run rampant and have macabre fun. ... Adults can appreciate The Boxtrolls without feeling stupid, and kids can enjoy pretending to their parents that they’re scared." Altogether, "The Boxtrolls is mainly a delight for the sharp eye and the capricious mind. ... Stick around for the closing credits."

Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips writes that the film "remains relentlessly busy up through its final credits, and it's clever in a nattering way. But it's virtually charmless." Even more so, "the mere mention of the words 'cheese,' 'stop-motion' and 'animation' cannot help but conjure the glorious universe of Wallace & Gromit, the Aardman wonders for the ages. Up against those two, what chance does a technically impressive but rather harsh item such as The Boxtrolls have, really?"

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee