The Boxtrolls is the latest movie from Laika, the company behind animated hits Coraline and ParaNorman. It’s another stop motion animated treat featuring a strange and wonderful world that has a lot to do with cheese.
And it’s also based on a book, specifically 2005’s Here Be Monsters! by British author Alan Snow. But the writing only forms part of the large book, which also includes over 500 black and white illustrations by Snow himself.
This tome is also said to be volume 1 of The Ratbridge Chronicles (though volume 2 has yet to arrive almost a decade on) and the book has also been cut into three parts and published separately as Pants Ahoy!, The Man in the Iron Socks and Cheese Galore!
What ties all of these different versions together is that they all take place in and around the town of Ratbridge and concern a young boy called Arthur who is living underground with his grandfather and flying out at night to borrow food so they can survive.
On one of these stealing runs (let’s be honest here) his wings are damaged and Arthur becomes trapped in the land above, until a fellow called Willbury helps him hide and Arthur gets to meet his first boxtroll. They’re small creatures who live underground, like tinkering with things and speak in cute burbles.
They’re just one set of underground dwellers (also including cabbageheads) who are under threat as their numbers are dwindling and no one knows why. That’s one of the mysteries to be solved as Arthur and his new friends try to find a way back underground and come up against the evil Snatcher along the way.
It’s pretty clear that Here Be Monsters! was taken as mere inspiration by writers Irena Brignull and Adam Pavafolks at Laika. For one thing, the tone of their film is a good deal darker than the light and comical book, something which you’ll realise from the opening frame. And it gets more sinister than that.
Instead, the lead character of the film is Eggs and The Boxtrolls are given much more of a prime position as a minority being persecuted by the evil Snatcher – who also has a beefed up role. And they also look quite different – with a carefully curated cuteness in the film version and a great deal of screen time.
Plenty of characters and scenes have been excised from the film, including all mention of the pirate ship which makes the title of Pants Ahoy! actually make sense. In their place, the cheese obsession of the inhabitants has been given more focus and we get the addition of entirely new characters, most notably Winnie (voiced by Elle Fanning) who becomes central to the plot.
I’m not going to get into spoilers here but the plot moves in very different ways too, with themes in the film that are a bit more mature than the book – though it also still manages to be suitable for all but the very young.
The Boxtrolls is a marvellous stop motion treat, and I’ll have my full review up soon, but for fans of the setting it’s great to know that there’s another take on the world out there, and that you can find out the inspiration for these delightful creatures in the sketched lines of Alan Snow’s illustrations and Arthur’s adventures in the cragged streets of Ratbridge.
Copies of the hardback version of Here Be Monsters! seems to be difficult to find in print but there's a new movie tie in reprint and the three separate versions – Pants Ahoy, The Man in the Iron Socks and Cheese Galore online.
The Boxtrolls is in cinemas from the 12th of September 2014.