Peeking inside the boxes… a chat with the directors of The Boxtrolls

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On Thursday Deadline treated Los Angeles to a special screening of the Oscar-nominated animated featured The Boxtrolls.

The night began with a rousing introduction by Deadline’s Dominic Patten, leading up to a 3D screening of the Laika feature at Landmark Theatres.

The Boxtrolls is a charming film for the whole family, bursting with comical moments, scenes that tug at the heartstrings, and even political undertones.

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(L to R) Moderator Dominic Patten led a discussion with directors Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable

“It’s Oliver Twist, if it was made by Monty Python,” said director Anthony Stacchi. “And people immediately got that.” (Fun fact: “The Boxtrolls Song” in the film is actually written by Monty Python star Eric Idle.)

The movie follows the story of Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright), a young boy who grew up underneath the streets of a city called Cheesebridge, having been adopted as a baby by the affable Boxtrolls.

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Eggs doll

The peaceful, underground creatures, who each sport a cardboard box, giving them their name and unique identity, venture into the city only to collect trash which they then repurpose into treasure in their cavernous community.

However, Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Sir Ben Kingsley) threatens the quirky creatures’ existence, as he’s promised a high position in the town if he exterminates every last one.

One night while scouting for treasures, Eggs runs into a little girl named Winnie (voiced by Elle Fanning), and it turns out she could just be the help he needs to finally fight back against the awful exterminator Archibald.

After the film, its directors Stacchi and Graham Annable sat down along with moderator Patten to speak about the stop-motion joy.

Annabel revealed that Laika got the rights to the movie – which is based on the novel Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow – around the same time they began working on 2009’s Coraline. It took them nearly ten years to finally release The Boxtrolls.

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Winnie doll

They discussed the delicate and time-consuming process of filming a stop-motion film, but also the benefits of working on a production filled with such life and tangible inspiration.

“If you work at a CGI animation studio, if you squint your eyes and look around, you could be working at a bank,” Stacchi said.

“There’s not a lot of tangible stuff around. What’s really enjoyable is that we would get called out to a meeting at 11 and walk out onto these stages and there would be the market square where the big battle takes place, and it’s all built, and it’s all there.”

The two directors also commented on the je ne sais quoi of stop-motion animation, and why exactly it always seems so resonant.

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Archibald Snatcher doll

“I think the audience, somewhere deep down, you remember playing with dolls, and you know that these are inanimate objects that have come to life,” Stacchi said. “You know these are real things moving, and there’s a fascination to that.”

The Boxtrolls contains subtle political themes, and comments on class systems, and the directors explained how to smoothly incorporate adult material into a childern’s animated feature.

“Well, for us it’s like, you never go into it thinking this is a movie just for kids. You want to go into it thinking, this is a movie that I want to see,” Stacchi said.

Annable added: “I think we’re lucky at Laika in that we are this sort of oddball, independent animation studio and we don’t do a lot of focus tests and we do get to make the movies that we want to see, and we think our children want to see.”

Stacchi and Annable also surprised the audience by bringing along three dolls to the screening, dolls that had actually been used while filming.

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They brought along a doll for Eggs, Archibald, and Winnie, but were not able to bring any of the boxtrolls themselves, of which there were at least 40.

Before they opened up to discussion with the audience – and a chance to get a close-up look at the dolls! – moderator Patten asked one last question – would there be a sequel?

Director Anthony Stacchi showed the many layers of the dolls

Director Anthony Stacchi showed the many layers of the dolls

Stacchi answered the question rather eloquently, quoting a philosophy held by Laika CEO Travis Knight.

“Travis, our CEO, has a really good philosophy that I definitely agree with, is that when you make a movie you usually make it about the most important, most pivotal moment in a character’s life,” he said. “So what’s the sequel about?”

The Boxtrolls is nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 87th Academy Awards against Big Hero 6, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. The ceremony airs Sunday, February 22nd.

Director Stacchi demonstrates the flexibility of the dolls as he stages them

Director Stacchi demonstrates the flexibility of the dolls as he stages them

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