Best Animated Picture
There’s a lot to like about The Boxtrolls. It has a wit and charm that is often missing from modern family pictures, which are so neutered of dark themes so as to be inoffensive to the widest demographic that they have become a malaise of the same boorish drivel. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see films from Laika, perhaps the only major studio that shuns the trend of polygonal animation in favor of traditionally crafted stop-motion animation. It’s easy to see the love and dedication that goes into their films, and The Boxtrolls is no exception. And yet, this film has one major, glaring issue that mars what would otherwise be a great family movie: a transmisogynist caricature of a villain.
The story takes place in the city of Cheesebridge, where the upper-class dandies are more concerned with consuming the next variety of cheddar than paying attention to the needs of the populace. This has allowed an exterminator named Archibald Snatcher to dupe the town leaders into thinking the subterranean Boxtrolls, a friendly race of tinkerers, has kidnapped a small child and eaten him, giving Snatcher leverage to work his way up into the wealthy elite’s inner circle. Though the Boxtrolls did take a child, they did not eat him, and he grows among them. As the years go by, their numbers diminish under Snatcher’s tyrannous night patrols, and the child, known as Eggs, seeks to find out who he is and how to stop Snatcher.
Aside from the animation, the thing that makes this film unique is its wonderful reliance on character humor, as most of the human cast is endearing and memorable in their own way. Winnie, a human child that Eggs befriends, has a bizarre fascination with the morbid, and is persistently disappointed when the Boxtrolls fail to live up to their reputation. Lord Portley-Rind is a town aristocrat seemingly more interested in cheese than his own daughter. The best of the lot, though, are Snatcher’s henchmen, apparently self-aware that they are the villains of this story, yet persistently in denial about it. This are rich and memorable characters, enhanced by their fantastic designs and their hard-working animators.
However, that brings us to the film’s biggest issue: the villain, Archibald Snatcher. In most scenes, he is perfectly fine, an actually somewhat tragic figure in his lust to join the upper class and yet perpetually unable to. But the film insists on scenes where he parades through the upper class as Madame Frou Frou, a feminine object of mass objectification and attraction to the aristocracy. This is played up for laughs, punctuated by a climactic gender reveal at the end where one male character “regrets so much.” The reaffirmation of rigid gender roles is disappointing in a modern film, where I would hope we could be beyond ridiculing those who act outside of their ascribed gender identity. What is especially upsetting is that these scenes aren’t even core to the film’s narrative, but are there purely as extra comedic fodder.
Despite that, though, I’m willing to give The Boxtrolls a recommendation. That glaring issue aside, it is a clever film that is damn funny and gorgeously animated. If you have kids, though, just make sure to let them know that the film’s portrayal of the man-in-the-dress stereotype is most assuredly not okay, as it demeans those of us who don’t conform to traditional gender norms.
Any other films come to mind that are transmisogynistically problematic? *cough* Ace Ventura *cough* Leave your warnings in the comments below.