Movie Appreciation: A little look at The Box Trolls and its links to Charles Dickens and Roald Dahl

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I took my nephew to watch Box Trolls yesterday, not really knowing anything about it. I was delighted to see that it was a film in the style of classic children’s stories like Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol and Roald Dahl’s Matilda and James and the Giant Peach. So I thought I’d write a little blog on how it seems to relate to these classics. It’s also a wonderful film for its appreciation for old school stop motion animation.

Box Trolls is a charming old school stop motion family film with a Steampunk aesthetic and a Roald Dahl and Dickensian mind-set. Based on Alan Snow’s novel, There Be Monsters, The Box Trolls is a tale about little creatures who take people’s rubbish to make things and live off of in their underground homes. When a very young boy is in terrible danger the Box Trolls rescue him and bring him up as one of their own, and affectionately call him Egg. In the meantime a ruthless campaign is enacted to capture the Box Trolls who are labelled as terrible thieves and monsters. As Egg grows, his box troll companions are continually captured by the troll exterminators. When his troll father is taken he goes above ground to look among the humans to try and find him.

The Box Trolls is a beautiful film with a smart allegorical tale. Maybe its just me, but I found there to be quite a few aspects about The Box Trolls that made it feel like a Dickensian morality tale. There is the care and consideration for the young and destitute and themes of greed, corruption and waste. Egg and the Box Trolls are not unlike the characters of Dickens’ Oliver Twist – homeless children, street urchins regarded as pests and treated appallingly and villainously by the authorities.

It may not seem an obvious inspiration but Dickens is there in Box Trolls. In fact there’s quite a lot to this intelligent and beautiful childrens’ film. There are also excellent meta considerations provided by Richard Ayoade’s character. And there are elements of Roald Dahl too with the vulgar selfishness of grownups and the goodness of children, like we see in Matilda and James and the Giant Peach. The visual style of the The Box Trolls is also similar to the movie version of James and the Giant Peach, which is another fantastic family film.

The obvious theme of The Box Trolls is of waste and recycling. The Box Trolls are a bit like The Wombles, making use of our rubbish and making use of it for their homes. Then there are the story’s elements of greed and obsession with wealth and consumerism. The rich despise the Trolls, but the main Troll snatcher, Archibald Snatcher, is a poor man himself desperate to own a shiny white hat and eat cheese like the rich, even though he is severely allergic to it. Each time he eats any or even gets near cheese he suffers from terrible bloating, and I mean terrible, disgusting Roald Dahl style bloating. But he consumes it nevertheless. Cheese is the prime consumer item in The Box Trolls. The rich are obsessed with it. The Duke comments that they thought about using their saved money to buy a children’s hospital but instead spent it all on making a giant wheel of cheese. This could almost be a line from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Eventually greed is Archibald Snatcher’s undoing. The true victors are those with charitable hearts and who are caring and environmentally conscious.

Box Trolls then is a beautifully self-aware Dickensian style tale of environmentally friendly trolls. With elements that also make it like a Roald Dahl story, The Box Trolls is a fantastic morality tale that follows in the footsteps of some of the best of children’s literature.