It’s different, unusual, quirky…and a bit edgy. Ultimately, its messages are actually very positive, but the road to get there isn’t going to be for everyone. Some will love it, but others will want to find another, less provocative vehicle to get there.
It’s the story of an orphan boy named Eggs (named for the box he wears) who was raised by the kind-hearted, mechanically inclined and inventive boxtrolls under the city. Above them, lies and fear circulate about the boxtrolls and people are eager to have the “baby-killers” exterminated. Chased by the evil, power-hungry exterminator, the boxtrolls begin disappearing. Eggs befriends a human girl, Winnie, and together they work to expose the lies and defend the boxtrolls.
Here are some of the positive messages you can look for.
Winnie explains to Eggs what a father is all about. It’s a beautiful description of everything a father is supposed to be. It’s something Winnie believes is true, even though her own father falls woefully short. There is a beauty in it—not only in her understanding of fatherhood, but also in her constant hope for her own father to become that ideal. Eggs is an orphan, but immediately, when he hears about what a father is (not realizing her father isn’t quite the ideal), he adopts her father as his own. If her father is that wonderful, he would treat Eggs as a son, too.
How do we tie this to the Bible? Well, first off, God is a father, a perfect father. He is the ideal Winnie spoke of when she spoke of fathers. And, as Eggs hinted at, God actually is more than willing to adopt any of us as His sons and daughters. He is the father to the fatherless. Finally, Winnie’s attitude towards her father is a great example of the love described in 1 Corinthians 13. She is patient and hopeful towards her dad. She doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. She continues to hope for the best in her dad and to forgive over and over as he fails her. For all Winnie’s faults (we’ll get to that), she does this extraordinarily beautifully.
Another key theme in the movie is identity. It shows up in several places, but the most obvious is with Eggs who had been raised as a boxtroll, living in hiding under the city. He had no idea he was actually a human boy. It took him a while to believe that he was a human, but when he did it changed things. He no longer lived in hiding. He was willing to stand up to the bad men. He defended his troll friends, and even began to lead them (rather than follow them). He continued to identify with the boxtrolls, but his relationship to them changed when he knew who he was.
There are so many ways to take this discussion. In some ways, Eggs was like Jesus. He was raised from a baby by the trolls as one of them, yet he was more than them, too. He was taller; he could speak clearly; he was human. Eventually, he went from being their baby, to being their leader, a leader who led them from darkness and obscurity into the light of day. He freed them from the oppression of the exterminator and brought peace and harmony between them and the humans. Sounds a lot like Jesus.
In perhaps a more practical application, Eggs had a lot of bad things that happened to him as a child, but they turned out for the good. (See Romans 8:28.) He spent time as an outcast (a boxtroll), but that helped him have compassion on the outcasts. The boxtrolls had taught him a lot of valuable qualities and he was able to bring those qualities to his fellow man. He was able to help bridge together the two groups who had been at war…all because of the way he was able to identify with both boxtroll and man. This is such a great lesson for all of us. Who are the people we identify with? Perhaps you have found yourself outted, hanging out with the outcasts, whether you wanted to or not. Perhaps you, like Eggs, found that you learned a lot of good things from the outcasts. Maybe God even used you to help bridge the gap between them and another group—because you were able to identify with both groups. We need people like Eggs who are able to identify with others, have compassion on them, and help bring them together with the rest of the world.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[d] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. Ephesians 2:19
As Eggs was discovering his identity, he was questioning if a boxtroll could ever change his behavior? Could he act different than his nature? They needed to. They needed to be brave, to leave their boxes, save their lives and defend themselves. The answer is yes. They did change—because of Eggs’ leadership, love and encouragement. They were willing to leave their boxes when they realized the boxes were not their identity. Identity and behavior are very closely linked.
Two of the bad guys changed in much the same way. The change in their behavior was a result of an understanding of their identity as well. “Are you pest exterminators or evil henchmen?” Winnie asked them. When put that way, they knew that, though they were willing to be pest exterminators, they were not willing to be evil henchmen…and that’s just what they had been, whether they had been willing to admit it or not. Their identity would not have changed, nor their behavior, had Winnie not been able to see better in them. It was her encouragement that brought change.
Those are some powerful lessons for us as well. Our behavior is generally based on our identity. And sometimes, our identity is tied to things that were never meant to define us. (Hear Eggs saying, “Cheese. Hats. Boxes. [Whatever you use to define you.] They don’t make who you are. YOU make who you are.) When we leave those things behind (as the trolls did their boxes), we often discover that we are free to be who we really are.
Things may define us, but so may our behavior. Identity and behavior—as I said, they are closely linked. The bad guys finally realized that they didn’t want to be what they were acting like. Sometimes we need to realize that we don’t have to be who we are acting like we are, any more. We can change. Sometimes it just takes a good dose of reality—a close look at how other people see us. In almost every case, however, it takes someone else believing in us, loving us, challenging us, encouraging us, telling us we CAN change. The question is, are we going to be that person for someone else? And are we going to let someone be that person for us?
These are just a few of the great messages in the movie, and as I write and explore them deeper, I begin to like the movie more and more. There really is some subtle genius in the writing and unfolding. Though it is rich with meaning and discussion and good lessons, as I said before, I’m still a bit conflicted about it. I’m not trying to be a naysayer, or to say you and/or your children should have any issues with it. I do however recognize that lots of parents will wonder if they should take their children and will want to know the good along with the bad so they can make an informed decision as to what is best for them and their house. So, let me offer up my hesitations for those of you who have stricter sensitivities.
Winnie is not my idea of a great role model. Some will like her brashness, but I found her brassy, morbid and defiant. It’s not all bad. In fact, it’s honest—some kids are. But that doesn’t mean it’s what your kid needs to watch. Many kids want to emulate what they see without being able to distinguish between what is honorable and good. She’s rebellious because she’s screaming out for daddy’s attention. Not every kid will understand the why, but they will see Winnie as a hero to imitate…both her good and her bad.
As for her pushiness, I like strong females, but I also like for them to be soft. We see more pushy than tender with Winnie, but that’s a bit subjective and I understand everyone may not see that. What is more objective though, is her morbid fascination. She’s been raised on tales of baby-eating boxtrolls, and she’s fascinated with the idea. She talks about them eating the flesh off her face. She asks Eggs with a sense of excitement (not horror), “Did they eat your family? Did they let you watch!?” When she thinks a boxtroll has her captures, she tells them, “If you’re going to eat me, get it over with. I’m sure I’m delicious.”—which was actually pretty cute, but also frightening that she almost relishes the opportunity to die by flesh eating troll. Later, she’s furious to find the boxtrolls have nothing but repurposed junk. “Where are the rivers of blood and mountains of bones? I was promised mountains of bones!” It’s a constant throughout the movie. It’s kind of funny and light-hearted, and for many that will be all it is. But what concerns me is the kids who have a fascination with death, pain, blood, darkness. This may feed that at a very young age. It may not be appropriate to put these things into young minds. Depending on your children, I would be cautious of this.
There are also a few disgusting and disturbing scenes where the evil bad guy who is allergic to cheese swells up grotesquely when he eats it. One reviewer mentioned how appropriate it was, because it revealed the true monster that he was. I can see how it worked metaphorically—I just can also see it scaring a lot of kids. He was foul.
Along with the morbid, let me also just mention that I thought they pushed the envelope a bit with the rude humor a couple of times. Eggs has on normal boy clothes for the first time, and they are itchy… He walks funny, his crotch obviously uncomfortable, then scratches and Winnie hollers out, “Stop! You don’t scratch that in public. That’s why they’re called privates!” Really—I have to wonder who thought, “Why yes, even though it adds nothing to the actual story, we should put that in there. It will be a great addition and is totally appropriate for a kids’ movie.”
A few other scenes that pushed the envelope a little—the boxtrolls shed their boxes and are scene “naked” the rest of the movie. We see their naked bottoms, but we saw that with the minions in Despicable Me, too, so what’s the big deal? Well, maybe nothing, but this was more than Despicable Me. Their bodies are much more fleshly and graphic, and people repeatedly mention their nakedness with shame and embarrassment. Whether or not it’s a big deal will depend on you and your family…but at least you know it’s there.
One last thing that may not be quite as “grey”, the evil bad guy is also a cross-dressing stage Madonna that the townsmen, even the married ones, are openly enamored with. When it comes out that she is a he, one of them, a married man, high up in the town leadership, who had previously made a pass at her and put his hand on her butt, said that he was ashamed. If you ask me, that’s a whole pandora’s box of pretty heavy issues for a kid’s movie…a kids movie that had a lot of wonderful things to say without it…one that wasn’t enhanced or improved at all for the sketchy additives.
Honestly, if you want to know what I thought…I was really looking forward to it, but didn’t really enjoy it, and not for any moral conviction. I just simply didn’t really enjoy it. The tone was dark and I grew weary of it quickly. It did have a lot of great messages and for that I liked it…but those good were greatly offset by the, to me, wholly unnecessary bad—the bad which, I think, went way too far for the audience it was created for. Hopefully much of that will pass right over young viewers’ heads and the good will take root…something that will happen far more if parents will take the time to discuss those good messages with their kids.
Questions for Discussion:
- What did you think about Winnie’s father?
- Do you forgive your father like Winnie forgives hers?
- Do you keep hoping for the good in others the way Winnie did with her dad?
- What would it be like to have a perfect father? Do you know God is a perfect father?
- How can you love people (especially your parents and family), based on 1 Corinthians 13 and/or Winnie’s example?
- Do you see any connections between Eggs and Jesus?
- How does it make you feel that Jesus came and lived as a man so that he could rescue man from sin and death, and bring us into harmony with those in the heavenly realms?
- Who are the people you identify with? Are you able to identify with different groups? Is it possible that you may be someone like Eggs—someone who is able to bridge the gap between two groups, two worlds?
- Eggs’ dad said he was a “new species”. Did you know that God says that when we accept him we are a new creation? What do you think that means?
- Eggs and Winnie both believed that others could change and encouraged them to do so for the better. Who does that for you? Have you ever done that for someone else?
- How do your actions define you? If someone were only to watch your actions, who would they say you were?
- Are you scared to change? Why or why not? What positive changes could you make in your behavior?
- Is it hard for you to change your behavior if your identity stays the same? Is it easier to change how you act if you begin to think of yourself differently (to have a different identity)?
- People let things like hats and cheese and boxes define who they were. They were better people when they got rid of those things. What things do you let identify you and keep you “in a box”? How might your life and relationships change and/or be better if you got rid of them?