Beneath the streets of Cheesebridge live a group of mischievous but lovable monsters known as The Boxtrolls. For years, the town’s residents have lived in fear of the creatures but in spite of their grotesque appearance and often ill-mannered behavior, The Boxtrolls are actually a loving group of oddball do-gooders. For years, The Boxtrolls have lovingly fostered a human orphan, Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), thought they remain misunderstood by the townspeople – that is until Eggs decides to venture above ground and comes face-to-face with his own kind. Even as certain Cheesebridge residents begin warming to The Boxtrolls, local exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) has other plans – promising to eradicate the sewer-dwelling menace once and for all.
With such an illustrious track record at Laika, the stop-motion studio behind Coraline and ParaNorman, co-directors Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable had their work cut out for them.
In our interview with the filmmakers Stacchi and Annable discuss the challenges of stop-motion animation in modern Hollywood, creating a slightly more family-friendly film than Laika’s previous titles, and the collaborative process of co-directing.
Check out the trailer for The Boxtrolls below, followed by our interview with Stacchi and Annable:
Screen Rant: Tony, this is your second co-directing feature, Graham, this is your first feature, so when you guys got together and started working on this, did you hit it off right away? What’s that whole process like?
Stacchi: I went up there about 10 years ago and Travis (Knight, Laika CEO) gave me the Here Be Monsters book to read (from which The Boxtrolls was adapted). So I spent some time just being a writer. First writer, Irena Brignull, we worked on it together. Alan’s book is huge, cast of thousands, lots of brilliant ideas, but it needed to whittled down with ruthless economy to that core story of a little boy raised by boxtrolls. So that took a while, and while we were developing it, Graham was working on the other films. And we did reach a point where Graham had a little free time, and what we hadn’t figured out really — you know, we had a script that we liked, we had a story that we liked — but we hadn’t captured the tone of the movie. And there was a scene at that point in the story where the boxtrolls find a little baby in the trash, and we knew that we wanted our pantomime boxtrolls — that they couldn’t speak, that you couldn’t understand what they said, they had little emotive gurgles and stuff…so we had all these rough ideas but nothing yet had gelled, until we gave a sequence to Graham to board.
Annable: Yeah, and for me, it was like a dream job. I mean, over the years I’ve been creating my own comics and little animated shorts and, you know, I don’t have any actors to pay or anything, so when I make these little animated shorts, I do them without voice lines. And when Tony gave me this sequence that had no dialogue in it and was just two boxtrolls finding this little baby and everything had to be done with expressions and gestures, it was like the perfect thing for my sensibilities. And that sequence ended up being the thing that —
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Stacchi: Captured the tone of the movie.
Annable: Yeah, and we just sort of synced up after that point.
SR: This seems a little more family-oriented than Coraline and ParaNorman…
Stacchi: Yeah. The book was, and that was our intention too. Open it up a little. A little brighter, more colorful and a little more family-friendly. I mean, it has its dark moments like every Laika film, you know. I think Travis firmly believes in that idea, that to have those high highs, you need those low lows. And since we are an independent film company — I mean, we are the only independent animated feature film company ever — we don’t have to worry about focus testing and studio pressures and stuff. We make the movies that we want to make, that we want to see ourselves and that we want our families to see.
SR: Tell me about where stop-motion is right now in terms of – everything looks really smooth in this film. I mean, do you blend it more with CG and that kind of thing, or do you try to keep it as pure as possible?
Annable: Well, I mean, neither one of us claims to be purists in terms of stop-motion animation and with this film we, right from the outset, wanted it to be a hybrid. We’ve got a really robust VFX department, combined with an incredible collection of artists and, you know, art department that can create all these physical objects. And we loved that sort of tug of war that happens between the two sides. You’ve got the futurists and the luddites who both want to solve the problems as best as they can. And the style of this film —
Stacchi: Dictates everything.
Annable: Dictated all of it. Everybody needed to get, everybody needed to roll up their sleeves and get involved in almost an equal manner. And so it really turned into a hybrid of a movie where, at its core, it’s still, you know, primarily it’s like it was on the original King Kong. It’s a puppet and it’s a small set, and it’s being done frame by frame. But surrounding that set and enhancing it is set extensions and sort of background —
Annable: Atmosphere and things…
Stacchi: Smoke, fog, fire. But the actual puppets themselves are, you know, they’ve advanced in years of techniques in building the rigs and stuff, but they’re essentially the same. The computer assistant comes in in generating those rapid prototype faces, where we’re getting much more subtlety in the performance.
SR: If either of you guys were going to be a box troll, what box would you be?
Stacchi: (laughs) I’m exhausted after this process, I keep saying I’d have a box full of pillows. So I’d be known as Pillow the boxtroll.
Annable: I keep going with Pucks, ‘cause I’m a big hockey fan. I don’t know, it just seems to fit.
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The Boxtrolls will come out to play in theaters on September 26th, 2014.