Visually, The BoxTrolls resembles the world that Laika previously visited in Tim Burtons Corpse Bride, all caricatured and elongated figures it would be easy to imagine the two films taking place in the same universe, for instance, albeit with The BoxTrolls having replaced Corpse Brides almost black-and-white colour scheme for a somewhat brighter, pervasive muddy brown. The characters in Burtons film were intended as more frightening, more Gothic in nature, whereas The BoxTrolls could easily slot into being a Roald Dahl tale.
Childrens fantasy is filled with a menagerie of creatures that live inside the walls of human houses or underground, emerging to scavenge leftover and discarded items what John Clute calls wainscot societies in The Encyclopaedia of Fantasy (1992). You could point to screen examples such as the various film versions of The Borrowers stories the tv series The Borrowers (1993-4), the film The Borrowers (1997) and the anime Arrietty/The Secret World of Arrietty (2010); and other works like the tv series The Wombles (1973-5), Fungus the Bogeyman (2004), Flushed Away (2006) and the anime Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror (2009).
The story that The BoxTrolls operates with is nothing too original. There are familiar characters and arcs the boy who has grown up among the Boxtrolls unaware of his true nature; the precociously ignored daughter of privilege; the villain with the secret past. As with ParaNorman, there is the recurring theme that what civilised society reviles as the monsters are really peaceful and misunderstood characters.
These could have all played out as easy animation standards. It is however the extraordinary creativity that Laika places into the design and detail of the sets and characters that makes the film. (For some reason, the US-based filmmakers decide to fill almost all of the roles with a British voice cast, while the human characters are depicted as ruddy-cheeked John Bull caricatures). The film seems to have its most fun with the scenes of innocent Eggs unleashed on polite society. It all emerges amiably, if not fully quite hitting the same vivid stride that ParaNorman did. One of the cutest pieces comes during the end credits, which gets appealingly meta-fictional on us where a couple of the characters turn back up and are able to see beyond their confines and start to comment on and speculate about the animators who are manipulating them (all as seen in an undercranked blur).
Laika Entertainment next made Kubo and the Two Strings (2016).