Laika Studios and I go way back - as you may know, they started out as Will Vinton Studios, and Will got forced out by Phil Knight in a hostile takeover. Phil's talented son Travis is now the head of the studio and they've made some fantastic films - like "Coraline" and "Paranorman".
Their new film, "The Boxtrolls", is adapted from a children's book called "Here Be Monsters" by Alan Snow. I was invited to a special screening of the film, with the directors, Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, and also Travis Knight in attendance.
First of all, I loved the look and the animation - a lot of the character designs were done by the legendary Mike Smith. And the stop-motion animation, led by Travis, was a knockout.
My only complaint was the story. I really didn't feel the love for the Boxtrolls, underground midget creatures who scavenged for their creature comforts. Unlike Disney's "Snow White", which brought a lot of personality and humor to the dwarfs, with "The Boxtrolls" I felt no real empathy or passion for these subterranean characters.
It's too bad, because the villains were really quite marvelous and enjoyable. I especially liked the henchmen for the evil Boxtroll catcher, who were always justifying their evil deeds with questions like "We're really doing good here, aren't we?" or "We're really beneficial to society, aren't we?" I've never seen ambiguous bad guys like these before - and it was very refreshing and humorous.
I don't know how much they spent on the film, but I do know they're spending a ton on publicity, because Laika needs this film to be a hit. Although "Coraline" and "Paranorman" were critical successes, those films never made huge profits.
The Variety review by Peter DeBruge was very critical, and I hope people find the cool stuff in the film - because I would love for it to be a success. We need stop-motion animation, and another animation studio to give Pixar, Dreamworks and Blue Sky some competition.
I give "The Boxtrolls" a B-.