The makers of Coraline and ParaNorman return with another stop-motion wonder in Boxtrolls, writes Helen Barlow.

Stop-motion animation is the hardest of any form of film-making, given that each of those 24 frames per second has to be individually filmed, usually with puppets placed in an intricate environment. In order to film in 3D it even has to be done twice.

At Laika Studios, operating in Portland Oregon, a staff of around 350 people toil away endlessly, though many consider themselves lucky that they are no longer chained to a computer screen in the CGI environment.

After their success with Coraline and ParaNorman Laika has produced Boxtrolls, a comedy fantasy focusing on a strange community of underground tinkerers that transform junk into magical inventions in a manner the Laika animators can relate to.

"I think people at Laika are all shy, timid creatures who have questionable fashion sense and deplorable personal hygiene," quips Travis Knight, Laika's chief executive and lead animator, who has been compared to Pixar's John Lasseter because of his intimate knowledge of the work he instigates.


"We work in the dark marvels of invention, so we're clearly Boxtolls."

Based on Alan Snow's children's adventure novel, Here Be Monsters, Boxtrolls pits the posh White Hats headed by Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris from Mad Men) who rule the roost in Cheeseborough, eating stinky cheese all day long, against the Boxtrolls, who live underground wearing discarded boxes named after the original contents like Shoes, Fish or Knickers.

We follows Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright - aka Bran Stark from Game of Thrones) a boy the Boxtrolls have raised to believes he is one of them. When the snarlingly villainous Archibald Snatcher (Sir Ben Kingsley) persuades Lord Portley-Rind to award him a white hat if he exterminates the trolls, the 11-year-old Eggs ventures above ground to save his family. He is assisted by an unexpected ally in Portley-Rind's 11-year-old daughter Winnie (Elle Fanning).

"From the very beginning we were attracted to the book's Roald Dahl quality, where a lot of the adults are kind of useless and the kids know better," Knight explains. "We described it as Oliver Twist if it was made by Monty Python. We wanted to capture that absurd comedy but also take on real issues, add some satire and be a bit subversive."

Coming from Game of Thrones, Hempstead Wright already had developed a taste for something different.

"My favourite animated films have been from Sylvain Chaumet the French director who does 2D animation features like The Triplettes of Belleville, which I just loved. It was a bit like a Laika movie in a sense because it has the dark theme and the Monty Python-esque comedy in it as well. I grew up with those fabulous caricatures and most recently loved his second film, The Illusionist. I've noticed I've tended to gravitate towards animated films in terms of watching them over the years."

The film-makers were keen to cast Hempstead Wright as their principal voice as he had the "unique feral quality" they were after and, ultimately, he resembles Eggs. Though originally they had based their designs on the child character in Ken Loach's seminal 1969 movie, Kes.

"Kes had always been a really important film to me and I'd always loved that child actor [David Bradley] who's in it," notes co-director Anthony Stacchi. "He was actually what I gave to the storyboard artists and character designers as a reference for what the boy should look like."


Fanning meanwhile had been a friend of the studio since her sister, Dakota, had voiced Coraline.

"Luckily we found out Elle had just done a film in England and her English accent was really good," notes Stacchi.

Then it was just a kind of wish list, which included Richard Ayoade as a reluctantly evil henchmen and Simon Pegg and Toni Collette in smaller roles.

What: Boxtrolls
Who: Featuring the voices of Isaac Hempstead Wright, Ben Kingsley, Elle Fanning and more
When: At cinemas from today

- TimeOut