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THE BOXTROLLS – Dario Marianelli

September 30, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

boxtrollsOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Boxtrolls is a stop-motion animated film from the people who brought us Coraline and Paranorman. Based on the novel “Here Be Monsters!” by Alan Snow, it follows the adventures of a community of quirky, mischievous creatures who have lovingly raised an orphaned human boy named Eggs in an amazing cavernous home beneath the streets of the fictional English town of Cheesebridge. When the town’s villain, Archibald Snatcher, comes up with a plot to get rid of the Boxtrolls – who are mistakenly believed to kidnap children – Eggs decides to venture above ground, “into the light,” where he meets and teams up with a feisty young girl named Winifred to save the Boxtrolls from an untimely fate. The film features the voices of Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Simon Pegg, and Game of Thrones’s Isaac Hempstead-Wright, and features an original score by Dario Marianelli, in what is his first significant work since Anna Karenina in 2012.

This is the first score for animation in Marianelli’s career, and in order to come up with a unique musical palette for the Boxtrolls’s world, Marianelli employed lots of unusual instrumentation in his score. The orchestra makes use, at one time or another, of a theremin, a saw, a music box, a toy piano, dulcimer, accordion, rubbed glasses, washboards, broken light bulbs, forks and knives, and a typewriter, all of which fits in with the Boxtrolls’s lifestyle – they spend their nights dumpster-diving on the streets of Cheesebridge to salvage thrown out or broken materials, which they then employ to build and fix things in their fantastical underground community.

Cues such as “The Scavengers” and “The Boxtrolls Cavern” have a mischievous, playful quality to them, a sense of movement through elegant but slightly askew waltz-time dances, and a feeling of benign curiosity. Several cues highlight performances for light woodwinds, pizzicato strings, harps, and the aforementioned unusual percussion items, all to excellent effect. Later, “Eggs’s Music Box” is a delicate little piano melody with a touch of melancholy that receives recapitulations for woodwinds in “Broken Eggs” and “What’s a Father?”, and seems to be a downcast motif for Eggs’s less-than-ideal childhood circumstances. “Quattro Sabatino”, meanwhile, is an original piece of opera buffa that underscores a sentimental montage sequence of Eggs growing up in the Boxtrolls community, despite having lyrics that seem to do nothing but list types of Italian cheese.

When the action moves up into the ‘real’ world, Marianelli scores it with a series of opulent, self-important dances and waltzes which speak to the pomposity of the populace. The second half of “One Busy Night” could have been written by Nino Rota, while later cues such as “Cheesebridge Funfair”, “Allergic”, the extremely peculiar “Slap Waltz”, and the conclusive “Say Cheese” are amusingly flamboyant, combining classical pastiche with old-fashioned musty-dusty instrumentation – including what sounds like a combination of an old upright joanna and a German oompah band – that pokes fun at the hoity-toity attitudes of Cheesebridge’s inhabitants.

Meanwhile, several moments of quite dramatic action music characterizes the numerous encounters between the Boxtrolls and the Red Hats Gang, who are working to clear the streets of Cheesebridge on behalf of Snatcher. The opening cue, “The Unspeakable Has Happened”, actually sets the scene quite moodily and ominously with a piece filled with tension, while later cues such as “Rooftop Chase”, “To the Rescue”, the more dangerous-sounding “I’m Sure I Am Delicious”, and the show-stopping “Last Battle”, are surprisingly vivid and full of energy, with fluid brass writing, vigorous rhythmic ideas that allow the strings and woodwinds to bounce off each other, and occasional bursts of Boxtrolls-specific instrumentation that are very clever. “Snatcher’s Dramatical Entrance” is an explosion of menacing portent built around a brooding theme for the leader of the Red Hats, which is developed further in the equally fearsome “Look What You Did”.

Legendary Monty Python member Eric Idle contributed an original song – “The Boxtrolls Song” – which has satirical lyrics, an idiosyncratic German-accented vocal performance by actor Sean Patrick Doyle and, according to the songwriter, an intentional Kurt Weill influence. Rounding out the album are three tracks – old and new – from the Portland, Oregon-based band Loch Lomond. The group distinctly incorporates harmonic vocals, mandolin, theremin, bass clarinet, and all manner of unique percussion items that play off the distinct voice of lead singer/multi-instrumentalist Ritchie Young. I remember British folk musician Ralph McTell singing “Little Boxes” back in the 1980s, so it has a great nostalgia content for me; the original song, “Some Kids”, speaks directly to Eggs’s circumstances and has refreshingly enlightened lyrics, while the traditional “Whole World” featured prominently in the film’s trailers.

The one thing that Marianelli doesn’t do – and this is a major thing which I think allows the score for The Boxtrolls to be considered in a significantly positive light – is fall into the trap of mickey-mousing everything, which is something that first time composers in the animation genre resort to too often. The Boxtrolls has a well defined instrumental palette that separates the worlds above and below, works around several recurring thematic and textural ideas, and has plenty of innovation and unusual touches in the orchestration to keep it interesting through its entire running length. The fully-orchestral action music is perhaps the most surprising aspect of the score, in terms of how great it is: rich, full-bodied, exciting, and texturally complicated, in a way that we don’t usually hear from Marianelli. All in all, this comes highly recommended from me, especially for those who enjoy exciting action scores, lightened by a touch of whimsy. Pecorino! Parmigiano! Mascarpone! Provolone!

Buy the Boxtrolls soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Unspeakable Has Happened (2:20)
  • The Scavengers (2:26)
  • The Boxtrolls Cavern (2:32)
  • Eggs’ Music Box (1:50)
  • Quattro Sabatino (performed by Peter Harris, Alex Tsilogiannis, Thomas Kennedy and Edmund Saddington) (2:38)
  • One Busy Night (2:35)
  • Rooftop Chase (1:38)
  • Broken Eggs (2:01)
  • Cheesebridge Funfair (0:47)
  • The Boxtrolls Song (written by Eric Idle, performed by Mark Orton & Loch Lomond feat. Sean Patrick Doyle) (2:35)
  • Snatcher and His Stooges (1:35)
  • Allergic (4:51)
  • To the Rescue (2:00)
  • I’m Sure I Am Delicious (2:00)
  • I Was Given to Them (2:54)
  • What’s a Father? (1:32)
  • Slap Waltz (2:29)
  • Snatcher’s Dramatical Entrance (3:27)
  • Look What You Did (3:45)
  • Jelly! (4:11)
  • Last Battle (3:43)
  • Say Cheese (2:01)
  • Little Boxes (written by Malvina Reynolds, performed by Loch Lomond) (2:37)
  • Some Kids (written by Jesse Donaldson and Ritchie Young, performed by Loch Lomond) (3:03)
  • Whole World (traditional, performed by Loch Lomond) (1:35)

Running Time: 63 minutes 05 seconds

Back Lot Music (2014)

Music composed and conducted by Dario Marianelli. Orchestrations by Dario Marianelli and Geoff Alexander. Recorded and mixed by Nick Wollage. Edited by James Bellamy. Album produced by Dario Marianelli.

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  1. October 1, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    Your description makes this sound rather like Bruno Coulais’ score for “The Boxtrolls” predecessor “Coraline,” which I loved. Is that an apt comparison?

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