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The Boxtrolls
  • Composed by Dario Marianelli
  • Back Lot Music / 2014 / 63m

From the makers of Coraline, The Boxtrolls is a stop-motion animation in which a boy is raised by a community of funny little box-shaped creatures – the boxtrolls – in the English town of Cheesebridge, which sadly is not a real place but I am quite sure that if it were then I would live there.  (I imagine fields of cheese – buildings of cheese – and the famous bridge of cheese.)  Despite favourable reviews and a voice cast led by Ben “you can call me Sir Ben” Kingsley, it hasn’t been very successful, perhaps just a bit too quirky for children to really “get”, which is always a problem for these things.

For the talented composer Dario Marianelli, it was the chance to work on something very different.  He tends to have been involved in fairly weighty, serious dramas more than anything else for a while now, writing impressive music for many of them, but here’s a much lighter film, his first animation.  His somewhat quirky score takes a little getting used to, but it’s a charming and frequently delightful effort that proves ultimately to be rather rewarding, elegant and beautifully written with a fair number of surprises.  Perhaps the overall package doesn’t quite hang together as well as it might – the kind of flurry of styles that are brought together is really hard to get spot-on when it comes to an album experience – but there are a number of very fine individual parts to it.

Dario Marianelli

Dario Marianelli

For the boxtrolls themselves and the world they live in under the town, there is a quite playful, Russian-influenced sound with an eclectic array of instrumentation that gives them a distinctive sonic landscape to inhabit.  There are slight shades of Danny Elfman at times, also Alexandre Desplat at his most playful in his Wes Anderson scores, a really classy sheen over the top of it – and frequently a feeling that everyone’s about to leap into a thigh-slapping dance and drink a lot of vodka.  I love “The Boxtrolls Cavern” in particular, an elaborate and ingenious piece which is ingenious and infectious.  Later, “Slap Waltz” somehow manages to merge  a fairly madcap comic situation into a brilliantly authentic-sounding fast-paced waltz and it works a treat.

At other times the composer plays it entirely straight – “Broken Eggs” features an absolutely gorgeous melody, unexpected colour coming from a distant theremin of all things; it’s a real beauty.  Then there’s a handful of surprisingly boisterous and full-bodied action cues, the sort of extremely mature orchestral highjinks that John Williams did in The Adventures of Tintin, “Allergic” is a brilliant little scherzo, a classical pastiche that is like hearing Williams at work (very easy to imagine it in an Indiana Jones score).

These various styles are all developed over the course of the score – there are lots of ideas, each one gets a lot of exposure, the technique is undoubtedly brilliant and there’s frequently a smile on my face when listening.  And yet – despite all that, I do wonder how often I’m going to want to listen to this in future.  The plus points are numerous and notable – but I can never quite escape the feeling that there’s so much being thrown at me, not all that much of it really sticks.  There are some delightful melodies, but none I can remember when it’s over; a number of cues are delightful little nuggets, but they come so thick and fast they’ve usually been and gone before I can really appreciate them.

I do think though that those flaws to the overall listening experience are modest enough that they are relatively easy to overcome.  As Marianelli’s first foray into animation – indeed, his first foray really into this kind of “family movie” at all – it’s a decent start.  I suspect it will be too quirky for some, just right for others.  As well as the composer’s score, the album features a handful of songs by folk band Loch Lomond and an original song by Eric Idle, “The Boxtrolls Song”, which is nice but not at the level of his most famous.  Overall – very solid, maybe not quite the sum of its parts but recommended all the same.

Rating: *** 1/2 | |

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  1. Mike bendelow (Reply) on Tuesday 4 November, 2014 at 12:18

    Just wanted to say as a collector of soundtracks for over 50 years (I,m 67) How much I enjoy reading you’re reviews and how they help influence what new soundtracks I buy. It’s interesting reading your top choice and how we both have a similar taste mixing Golden Age with more modern soundtracks. Keep up the good work it’s much appreciated by the collectors out there. Thanks. Mike