The Boxtrolls is a kiddie charmer that makes you laugh, cower, and think of Hitler. That's an unusual trifecta, but then again, this is an unusual film. If the German Expressionists were skilled at stop-motion animation, they'd have already made it. This is cartoon Caligari, a fable set on a hillside village crammed with cobblestone streets that look like old photographs of the Frankfort ghetto.
The Boxtrolls themselves are monstrous creations: one part Nosferatu, one part hairless cat. We first spot one sprinting into the sewers with an infant -- more on that boy in a second -- but we're meant to love them, which for children into grody things is easy to do. The Boxtrolls munch on grubs, babble like babies and act like Legos, climbing on each other like staircases and, at night, nesting cardboard flap–to–cardboard flap like a hoarder's dream.
Ten years ago, they took ownership of that human boy (Isaac Hempstead Wright), named him Eggs, and have raised him like a Boxtroll. Above ground, villainous Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) is using Eggs's abduction as an excuse to exterminate the Boxtrolls, which the film shows in a hushed, devastating montage of their cuddly cardboard cube shrinking night by night.
This is a story of propaganda, genocide, suppression, servitude, and apathy. Here, a self-serving stage actress (also Kingsley) puts on a nasty play about how the Boxtrolls kidnap and kill children, and Annable and Stacchi cut to the crowd roaring for vengeance. The Boxtrolls asks questions that the 17 million German soldiers who fought in World War II apparently didn't -- or couldn't -- ask. How wonderful to find a cartoon for children that will.