Boxtrolls: Should Movies be Pretty?

There’s a lot to be said for being the first. Everybody remembers Toy Story, because it broke cinematic ground. Same thing goes for Snow White. These days, I have to admit that all of the movies I watch start to blur together after a while. There’s been a slew of animated movies that all sort of blend in with one another. They’re funny enough, and amusing in their own way, but a year or two after you’ve watched them, good luck on actually remembering what they were about. (The Ice Age movies are an excellent example of this. Or all the Shrek sequels. Does anyone other than the creators really remember what happened in Ice Age 3?)

So it starts to take more and more effort for something to stand out from the crowd. I’d argue that The Boxtrolls does a pretty good job of this, though it does it at a price. I saw it pop up on Netflix a few weeks ago, and I added it to my list as a potential family movie. We watched it over the weekend, and we all enjoyed it.

But boy are the people in it funky looking. I applaud the willingness to explore different body shapes and heroic types, but the general style of this movie is not a particularly pleasant one to watch, which brings an interesting question with it: how many of Hollywood’s popular movies would be as popular if they were filled with (how to put it?) ugly people?

Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed the style of this movie, but I doubt anyone would argue that the characters in it are the most pleasing to the eye. They’re filled with warts and skinny limbs and huge noses and rotting teeth. It all works and is consistent with itself, but somehow it’s easier to be forgiving of a movie when there’s things happening that are at least pleasant to look at. Take that away, and it becomes easier for me to be critical.

Maybe I really am that shallow.

The thing is, there’s really a lot to like about this movie. The plot is fun, it’s filled with interesting, unexpected twists and turns, the characters are plucky, the villain is truly monstrous. And the claymation is really spectacular. It really impressed me. It also deals with some pretty great ideas and debates. Just check out this after credits scene:

But when I wonder why It didn’t do better, I can’t help but think it’s because of the style itself. It brought in just a bit over $50 million on a $60 million budget. (Of course, when you add international, that goes up to $108 million, but still. I think the movie was better than that total reflects.) Honestly, I gave it a 9/10, and while I feel bad about it, I can’t help but think it could have been a 10 if the characters were a smidge easier on the eyes. Then again, I also recognize the movie is an adaptation of Here Be Monsters, an illustrated book that already had its own unique style.

I suppose the question becomes how much you want your art to get in the way of commercial success. I’m not saying one choice is better than another. It’s something each creator has to think about and come to terms with. I do think there’s a middle ground to be explored. Most of the people I see and interact with each day are regular. Normal. They’re not drop dead gorgeous, but they’re far from hideous (how’s that for an endorsement?) I would love art that celebrates that normalcy. I’ve always thought foreign media does a better job with this than American media does.

The interesting thing is that I don’t feel like I can discuss this without seeming really petty and judgmental. That wasn’t the intent, but the more I type, the more I’m beginning to doubt I can adequately pin this down. So I’m going to step away now and see if anyone has anything more to add. Did you see the film? What did you think? What do you think of the idea in general?

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