The Boxtrolls is phenomenaly manipulated art

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      Featuring Ben Kingsley and Elle Fanning. Rated G.

      Like the Borrowers before them, smaller beings—named for the grocery parcels they wear as clothing—are living lives parallel to ours, based on our leftovers. Actually, the most interesting detritus consists of detailed boxtroll models and miraculous settings that make up the fictional (but veddy British) town of Cheesebridge.

      The stop-motion manipulators of this deluxe material, augmented by computer animation and the 2-D kind, are codirectors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, between them responsible for ’toon work on ParaNorman, Antz, and The Rocketeer. Their feature is darker than the stop-motion likes of Chicken Run or even James and the Giant Peach (which Stacchi also worked on).

      It begins soothingly enough, with a baby raised underground. Eggs (voiced by Game of Thrones’ Isaac Hempstead Wright, and named after a fast-shrinking carton) has somehow mastered the language spoken by none of his boxy confreres. But several encounters with a human girl, far above their intricate steam-punk lair, will finally convince him that he’s a real, live boy.

      The story bears little resemblance to its source book, Alan Snow’s Here Be Monsters!, wherein the town was Ratbridge. And the filmmakers have dropped an inventor called Marjorie, reducing the female presence primarily to the above-mentioned girl, Elle Fanning’s feisty daughter of the cheese-centred village’s leading citizen, Lord Portley-Rind (an excellent Jared Harris). The latter never listens to the former, instead giving his ear to one Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), who brings messy politics to the story.

      The Dick Cheney of Cheesebridge, Snatcher has successfully demonized a mild threat, turning our purloining but otherwise harmless boxtrolls into full-blown terrorists, which can only be handled by his team of exterminators, who keep reminding themselves that they, in fact, are “the good guys”.

      The movie gets more grotesque, and too intense for small children, as it moves into the roundup phase, but I was less interested in the story and the moralizing (not to mention some iffy questions about class and gender) than in the phenomenal flow of delicately manipulated art—only revealed in its scale and complexity if you stay for the very end of the credits.