The artists at LAIKA Studios – makers of the stop-motion animated films Coraline and Paranorman – practice their craft at their studios in Portland, Oregon, a world away from the Hollywood PR machine. But with the release of The Boxtrolls mere months away, LAIKA brought the film into the Comic Con spotlight at a special press event featuring actors Ben Kingsley, Elle Fanning, and Isaac Hempstead-Wright; co-directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi; and LAIKA president and CEO Travis Knight.
In The Boxtrolls, a human orphan (Hempstead-Wright) is raised by the titular creatures, gentle junk collectors who dwell, out of sight, in caves underneath a British village. When a little girl (Fanning) discovers the existence of the Boxtrolls and their ward, an opportunistic pest exterminator (Kingsley) invents sensational myths about these strange new neighbors for his own political gain.
Based on a children’s book by Alan Snow, The Boxtrolls looks like a typical LAIKA film with thematic heft and funky visuals that should appeal to audiences of all ages. Here are some of the more interesting details we gleaned from the press event:
Old Methods, New Technology
Though LAIKA utilizes 3D-printing technology to create many of its puppets and scene elements, Knight noted that the fundamentals of stop-motion animation haven’t changed in nearly a century. Cutting edge tools can provide a peripheral improvement – like allowing for the quick production of puppet faces in a variety of expressions – but the characters still have to be posed and moved by hand in every scene.
Relax, It’s Only Voice Acting
Kingsley was able to record his part in a studio just a few miles from his home in the English countryside, but he took it just as seriously as any live-action performance, developing a south London accent with elongated vowels for his eccentric character, Archibald Snatcher. He also performed his lines whilst reclining in a special chair, which kept the actor in a relaxed state of mind.
The Puppet-Industrial Complex
Hempstead-Wright and Fanning made the journey to Portland for a set visit during the film’s technical production and came away impressed by the studio’s painstaking attention to detail. All the traditional departments of a studio were represented, said Fanning, just in service of miniature “actors,” singling out a seamstress who hand-knitted tiny sweaters, gloves, and other items for puppet costumes.
Family (and LGBT) Friendly
LAIKA’s commitment to LGBT representation (remember the gay jock from Paranorman?) extended to an early teaser for The Boxtrolls which portrayed a variety of families and their children, including families with same-sex parents. Knight explained that the studio’s casual inclusion of LGBT characters in its fictional worlds was simply meant to be reflective of the real world, and also ties in with the movie’s message about families that come in many different forms.
The Uncanny Appeal of Stop-Motion
Stacchi, in praising the “dreamlike quality” of stop-motion animation, acknowledged that the artform lends itself well to darker or more serious subject matter than is typically found in a family film. The filmmakers pointed to the evolution of the Boxtrolls’ cavernous abode, which goes from a “subterranean Coney Island” to a dimmed and diminished shell of an oppressed community. But they also stressed that there is a point to incorporating darker themes – as with LAIKA’s previous films, it’s all in service of a narrative that’s sensitive to the emotions of younger audience members without condescending to them.
The Boxtrolls opens in wide release on September 26, 2014. Check out the trailer here!