The Boxtrolls is a visually repellent pile of stop-motion animation, populated by grotesques and filmed in the palette of an exhumed casket's interior. It can frighten small children and bore anyone, with its cracked, cackled British wit. Pip pip, dreary-o.
Inflicted by Laika, the studio behind the better Coraline and Paranorman, The Boxtrolls takes the goosebumpy look of those movies to its illogical end. What seemed refreshing before — an antidote to Disney and DreamWorks' chummy moneymakers — is now gross indulgence, artists having sick fun whether we do or not.
It must be a hoot to design and manipulate characters with such wretched teeth, misshapen limbs and morbid pallor. And those are the humans.
The boxtrolls aren't much cuter, squat in stature and gibberished in speech — Minions without personality. They wear boxes as clothes that will be doffed at some point to show boxtroll bums. The boxes' labels give them names: Eggs, Fish, Shoe. One troll's box has knickers on it but no one calls him that.
Eggs isn't really a troll. He's a human kid raised by them, for spoilable reasons. How he learned to speak English around these jabberers — in Isaac Hempstead Wright's voice — isn't explained. Fish is his adoptive dad, captured by the dastardly boxtroll exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley, the ham to Eggs).
Snatcher explains it all in an irritating song, in chanteuse drag as Madame Frou Frou. Kingsley's falsetto falter is miswritten by Monty Python's Eric Idle, so I guess we can't always look on the bright side of life.
Eggs gets a side order of help from Winnie (Elle Fanning), the daughter of a esteemed village elder with a cheese fetish. Snatcher wants to join him in the tasting room (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) and will, if he eradicates all boxtrolls.
Directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi cram every conceivable ick onto the screen, from masticated gouda to squirming larvae snacks to ugly allergic swelling. The rusty steampunk atmosphere should come with tetanus shots, and the extreme closeups of horrible teeth with novocaine. The only takeaway from The Boxtrolls is a cheap Halloween costume idea.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.