Kids and creatures go hand in hand, and for anybody who happens to have children of their own, there can be times where it’s hard to tell them apart. With The Boxtrolls, Laika Entertainment blurs these two worlds by having their creatures actually raise a child.
Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) has been raised by the Boxtrolls, a strange group of creatures who live under the city of Cheesebridge. The citizens of the city are afraid of the Boxtrolls, and enlist the help of Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) to capture all of the trolls. Winnie (Elle Fanning) is the daughter of Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), and is always hoping to see a Boxtroll. When she runs into Eggs in the street one evening, she begins to see that the Boxtrolls aren’t scary at all. She does everything she can to help Eggs save his friends from Archibald Snatcher, while proving to the citizens of Cheesebridge that the Boxtrolls are friendly.
Toronto Film Scene had a chance to speak with The Boxtrolls’ Canadian co-director Graham Annable about the latest Laika film, how it’s a little bit like making horror for kids, and the increasingly detailed work that Laika is able to produce.
Although The Boxtrolls is about as far away from horror as you can get, there’s still a darker element to the movie that has been a theme in all of Laika’s films. Coraline featured a few creepy moments, and ParaNorman was all about zombies and ghosts. The Boxtrolls monsters come more in the form of human characters, as the Boxtrolls themselves are a very friendly and cute bunch. Annable pointed out that darker stories have been a part of animation for years and that these stories benefit the overall tale.
“Travis Knight [President & CEO] is a big part of why we do the films we do. We’ve talked a lot about the classic Disney features like Dumbo, Pinocchio and Bambi, I mean, those films went to very dark places, and I think there’s a certain dynamism in a story when you can go to dark, scary places, because the darker and heavier and intense you can go, the more euphoric and light the joyous portions of the film feel,” Annable says. “We want to find our place in the world and it feels like those stories that allow us to go a little darker, and a little deeper, give us an opportunity to stand out and honestly make the films that we want to make.”
It seems that Laika has easily achieved their goal of finding their place in the world, as audiences have now become very familiar with their work. While each of their films feels familiar, instantly allowing viewers to understand that Laika are the team behind them, they’re also very unique pieces. Their latest film goes into new territory, which Annable spoke a little about.
“With the first two films, they’re very different, but at the same time they are both sort of in that category of horror films for children. The idea of us doing a comedic adventure sort of larger scale movie, something that was going to evoke more of a Terry Gilliam/Monty Python type zaniness to it, and to do it in stop motion was a really refreshing subject matter to approach.”
With Annable mentioning Monty Python, it immediately brought up a very hilarious scene at the end of the film that seems pulled right out of one of their sketches. This recognition doesn’t come as a surprise to Annable, who spoke a little about the films that he grew up watching, but also made sure to not spoil one of the best moments of the film.
“That was a direct result of the films that Anthony Stacchi and I grew up on as well. I grew up on Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life, and all those great Monty Python films; Brazil, and Time Bandits and it’s those kind of things we wanted to go in to those worlds, explore that kind of tone and pay homage to a lot of that stuff, and again, feeling very creatively free to explore those things at Laika. I’m very proud of our surprise ending.”
When it came time to adapt the original novel, “Here Be Monsters!” from Alan Snow, it became obvious that they wouldn’t be able to fit everything in. But the way that Alan Snow constantly creates new characters and settings in his book inspired the Laika team and helped them create one of the best characters of the film.
“Winnie and her family were invented for the film, and she kind of served as a composite for most of the town of Cheesebridge. We needed to sort of consolidate all of the views of Cheesebridge into one little person. Winnie became that person who was the link for Eggs to learn about Cheesebridge. It really fell into place when we got Elle Fanning on board to do the voice, and began exploring ways to kind of keep her with her grotesque fascinations, but also make her extremely likeable, and I’m just so proud of the way that character turned out. I thought she was just a lot of fun, and she steals a lot of scenes, and she gets some of the best jokes in the film.”
One of the interesting things about the characters is how you can almost see the voice actors in the faces of their animated counterparts, especially when it came to Elle Fanning and Winnie. With character designs done well before actors are chosen to voice the character, I asked Graham to explain more about the process, and how they manage to find voices that work so well together.
“The character designs were done up front and Anthony Stacchi and I had our sort of wish list of actors we wanted for each character. We first started with figuring out who Eggs is going to be, the hero needs to get figured out first. It’s kind of like building a band or an orchestra, you want voices that are going to play well together and sort of round out the sound of the film, so we got Isaac Hempstead Wright figured out as Eggs pretty early on. We always knew, or were interested in, finding a place for Elle in one of our films, and she had just finished doing an unbelievably great British accent in Ginger and Rosa, and so we would use clips from Elle played against Isaac, we would mix in some Don Logan from Sexy Beast as our villain, and you really get a sense of how the voices will play off of each other.”
Before we finish our conversation, I wanted to learn more about how the characters were created. From Coraline to The Boxtrolls, the look of the characters has made a big leap in terms of detail. After hearing what Annable had to say, it seemed that big was a huge understatement.
“I think Coraline had about 207,000 possible expressions that she could do, and Eggs has about 1.4 million he can do. The face libraries have gotten so much bigger, they can emote so much more than they could before. Coraline, when the faces were printed out, they needed to still be hand painted, and so that limited the amount of design that could go into the faces. They needed to stay at a certain simplicity. By the time we get to The Boxtrolls, we can print these faces out with full colour, all kinds of variations in that colour. There’s just a ton of subtlety in there that never existed before.”
The Boxtrolls is certainly one of the most visually stunning films that Laika has created, and will have fans looking forward to any work they produce in the future.
The Boxtrolls opens Friday, September 26, 2014.