A starry cast that includes Ben Kingsley, Elle Fanning, Nick Frost, Tracy Morgan, Jared Harris, and Richard Ayoade gives voice to The Boxtrolls—the latest enchanting stop-motion animated featured from Laika, the studio behind Coraline and Paranorman—the tale of tiny, tinkering monsters that live underground; the city that fears them; and Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), the villain that hunt and exploits them. For directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, casting those famous voices and aligning voice with character were key in ensuring The Boxtrolls‘ success.
The filmmakers had a huge wish list of voices, but Annable and Stacchi realized that it wasn’t enough to simply think an actor was right for the part. They had to be sure, and so they put each voice to the test.
“We knew very early on that we liked the Bran Stark character from Game of Thrones, Isaac Hempstead Wright, we liked his voice,” says Stacchi of the actor who would eventually voice Eggs, the human child raised by boxtrolls. “We edited all the dialogue we could get from Game of Thrones and from interviews that Isaac had done, then we cut it over drawings of the Eggs character and paintings of the character and even sculpture of that character to see how it felt with that voice coming out of that body.
“As soon as we felt pretty strongly about that, we tried the pairings of the characters he would be talking to the most. We had always wanted to work with Elle Fanning, since her sister Dakota worked on Coraline, so we started cutting dialogue between Eggs and Winnie just using Elle Fanning’s voice from different movies and interviews that she had done. If it felt good – like they were coming from a different place and they felt good the way there were talking together. Isaac sounded like a naïve boy who’d been raised by monsters somehow and Elle Fanning sounded like the daughter of the richest man in town, even though their dialogue wasn’t making sense, it made you feel the relationship.”
Kingsley was number one on the directors’ wish list, but even his voice had to pass muster, Annable and Stacchi choosing from his five-decade long career his most adult (not to mention most profane and scabrous) role to test and see if he was right for their family film.
“We cut a lot of Don Logan from Sexy Beast yelling at poor Isaac Hempstead Wright,” Stacchi laughs. “Since the dialogue does not make sense, you can feel the pure quality and the power of the voice.”
“A lot of people come back to us and say, ‘We didn’t even realize that was Sir Ben Kingsley until the end of the film,’” adds Annable. “For me, that’s great in that I think his voice became that character. You really get that experience. It’s much more like the old classic animated movies like Pinocchio and Dumbo. The voice actors aren’t cast for their name and reputation. They’re cast, because they fit the character in the film.” —Pam Grady