A boy named Eggs lives among some monsters in "The Boxtrolls." Credit: Laika, Focus Features A boy named Eggs lives among some monsters in "The Boxtrolls."
Credit: Laika, Focus Features

 

'The Boxtrolls'
Directors: Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi
Voices of: Ben Kingsley, Elle Fanning
Rating: PG
4 (out of 5) Globes

 

What: Laika, the mordant stop-motion animation team that made “Coraline” and “ParaNorman,” match Dickens with monsters for their latest, about a hilly English town whose denizens worry about underground trolls, who, of course, are perfectly harmless.

 

The lowdown: Any stop-motion factory has to be judged against Aardman, the relentlessly clever team responsible for “Wallace and Gromit” (and underrated gems such as “The Pirates! Band of Misfits”). Laika aren’t as good, but they are more morbid, nearly as clever and, in the case of “The Boxtrolls,” at least as excessively English. (The names are some of the most Tory in ages: Winnie Portley-Rind, Archibald Snatcher, etc.) The jokes don’t come terribly fast in this gloomy number — and sometimes they don’t come at all. But the mood is a sustained one, always teetering between dark and funny, with just enough “heart” — that dreaded ’toon requisite — to show it has a pulse without ruining the fun.

 

In fact, the foundation is sound: It’s a social commentary that never turns didactic; a heavy fable that’s light on its feet; an all-star animation where every actor is chosen for talent, not his or her name. The trolls — who, yes, wear boxes around their waists — remain babbling cuties on the order of “Despicable Me” minions, while even the villains are adorable — chiefly the head baddie voiced by Ben Kingsley: a lactose-intolerant social climber. The actor speaks in a sing-songy patter that clings to each vowel like butter on an artery lining, ensuring that “The Boxtrolls” is as much fun to listen to as it is to look at — which is to say, very.

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