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The Boxtrolls (Blu-ray Review)

In what seems like an incredibly perfect match, Shout! Factory will be releasing new digitally remastered versions of the first four films from the wonderful stop-motion animation studio, LAIKA. Those films include Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls and Kubo and the Two Strings. In addition to the new restorations, every release will feature new bonus features while carrying over the old ones. Also, a booklet is included inside the packaging. For today’s review, we’ll be taking a look at 2014’s The Boxtrolls, which really pushed their animation team to some all new levels which really pushed and challenged them in evolving their aesthetic. The Boxtrolls and Coraline are the first two arriving from Shout! Factory on August 31st. The other two films will be following them with a September release. You can land yourself a copy of The Boxtrolls by clicking the paid Amazon Associates link that follows the review.

Film

Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), an orphan, lives with the Boxtrolls — a community of quirky, mischievous creatures who inhabit a cavern beneath the city of Cheesebridge. When villainous Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) hatches a plan to get rid of the pretty harmless beings, Eggs decides to go above ground, where he meets and befriends feisty Winnifred (Elle Fanning). Together, Eggs and Winnifred devise a daring plan to save the Boxtrolls from extermination.

Following up two instant classics and marvels of animation in Coraline and ParaNorman is a pretty darn impossible task. And while The Boxtrolls can’t quite get up to those, it still stands tall over most animated films of its era. From an animation perspective, LAIKA enters some new territory and continues down a rather impressive path with much more detail, a different look to things and more challenging sequences and characters to breathe life into their 3rd film.

What I appreciate with The Boxtrolls and LAIKA here is that while I wouldn’t call the film a horror film, they truly embrace a very old English, gothic horror angle in this film. And this continues on is such a vein as they established in their original two film. There’s a very steampunk, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Hammer-esque vibe to contribute to the look, character, creations and flavor that goes along with The Boxtrolls from open to close.

The Boxtrolls is a fun fairytale-esque film with a haunting, gothic aesthetic to give it a wonderful little spark. Its a good time for those invested in certain genres, as well as one that will delight and possibly spook the little ones in some areas. Its got a very British heft to it, which can be a bit of a benefit to many viewers who dig that kind of sheen. LAIKA flies high, even if this one doesn’t land quite as tall as its previous two efforts.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Shout! Factory boasts all these LAIKA films with brand new digital restorations. The previous release of The Boxtrolls from Univeral was pretty much damn near perfect a transfer. This one does notch it up and keep the quality very intact and improves in good areas. Again, its presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio as opposed to 1.85:1 theatrical, but I’m imagining we are just opening up the mattes here to more information and not just zooming up. Details are extremely strong to go with a lovely color palette and excellent display of motion and depth. To the untrained eye, the differences might be on a more negligible side, but the improvements are there.

Depth:  The LAIKA films are shot for 3-D, but even in its 2D form there is a lot to appreciate in its airy spaciness on display. Characters move freely, camera movements are confident and showcase some great pushback and depth of field. No issues with motion jitter or blur distortion present.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and almost at some more natural degrees. Shadowing and shading is excellent and bring some excellent contrast to help the colors really bolden and shine out. No issues with detail or information getting sucked away in darker areas. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors are quite gorgeous and see a little improvement in saturation and pop over the previous release. Some strong reds and blues come on here in terms of fabrics and the like. Where this transfer really shines is in bringing a light, suggestive sepia aesthetic in a very natural and not distracting or overbearing way.

Flesh Tones: N/A

Noise/Artifacts: None

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Dynamics: The Boxtrolls includes what I’m assuming is the 5.1 track used from the previous release. Which, if something is already pretty awesome, why tweak or mess with it. This is a plenty loud and wonderfully engaging mix that has great balance and play between the music, vocals and sound effects. Depth is strong here as many of the sound effects and atmospherics are quite lifelike to the degree where you can sense and feel things in the room.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: Loud slams, crashes, giant steampunk robot engines roaring and feet stomping and plenty more get your subwoofer to bring the hammer down.

Surround Sound Presentation: There is plenty of playfulness in the mix of sound traveling around the room to enhance and accurately depict much of the onscreen events. Where it excels is in the individual speaker contributions to bring environments to live. There are plenty of jumps, surprises and great accompaniment to scenes from the rear channels that really put this mix in a good spot.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp.

Extras

The Boxtrolls comes with a DVD copy of the film and an insert booklet featuring a foreword by Ramin Zahed, the Editor in Chief of Animation Magazine.

Audio Commentary

  • With Directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi

Inside LAIKA: Discovering the Characters of The Boxtrolls (HD, 9:33) – This featurette discusses all the different characters in the film, having some of the most they’ve ever done and how they went about making them differentiate and have little nooks and crannys. Features a lot of concept art, previsualization, early demo videos and such.

Inside LAIKA: Revisiting the Puppets with LAIKA’s Animation Team – The team brings out some of the old puppets from the film and reflects and motions them around a bit.

  • Mr. Pickles & Mr. Troul (HD, 1:37)
  • Lord Portley-Rind (HD, 1:13)
  • Archibald Snatcher (HD, 1:52) 
  • Winnie (HD, 1:21)
  • Fish & Shoe (HD, 1:59)
  • Eggs (HD, 1:23)

Feature-Length Storyboards (HD, 1:36:06) 

Dare to Be Square: Behind the Scenes of The Boxtrolls (HD, 33:17) 

The Nature of Creation (HD, 2:54) 

Trolls Right Off the Tongue (HD, 2:47) 

Allergic to Easy (HD, 2:58)

Let’s Dance (HD, 1:57) 

On the Shoulders of Giants (HD, 2:29) 

Still Galleries (HD) – Character Art, Concept Art, Behind the Scenes

Trailer (HD, 2:37)

Summary

While The Boxtrolls might fall last on my extremely high LAIKA pedestal (I need to iterate its a STRONG last), I still love it and grow fonder for it with each return viewing. Shout! Factory has made its second trip to Blu-ray a good one with its new extras and a nice new transfer that improves upon the already terrific one from before. Whether you double dip on this will depend on how big a fan of the studio (or film) you are. I can see many being fine with the already very good original Universal Blu-ray.

This is a paid Amazon Associates link

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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