Fascism and the Other in The Boxtrolls

The rise of fascism follows the same basic pattern throughout history. It begins with generalised rumours which spread slowly, almost unnoticeably, through society until enough people believe in them. Then more severe rumours are spread and so it continues until an almost complete dehumanisation of the other is complete.

This analysis contains spoilers.

From the creators of the somewhat dark and twisted puppetry-animated children’s movies Coraline and ParaNorman comes their latest animated feature The Boxtrolls. The Boxtrolls are troll-like creatures donning cardboard boxes living in the sewer system of Cheesebridge, a town where those in charge seem to spend most of their time discussing and tasting cheese. During the evenings and nights the Boxtrolls emerge from the sewers to gather whatever garbage they come across to bring home with them to use in various creative ways to improve their lives. Also out at that time is a sinister-looking character by the name of Archibald Snatcher and his goons, busy trying to catch all the Boxtrolls of Cheesebridge. Snatcher has his eyes set on a white hat, the symbol of the highest order in the town; the cheese-eating men in charge.

Years ago, Snatcher convinced Lord Portley-Rind, the most prominent white hat, that not only were the Boxtrolls likely to be targeting the town’s cheese supply but they had also stolen a baby. In exchange for capturing all the Boxtrolls, Portley-Rind promises Snatcher a white hat, which would grant him power and all the cheese he can eat. That he is highly allergic to cheese, bothers him not. The symbolism in being able to taste the cheese is far too tempting.

As the movie progresses, the Boxtrolls turn out to be the friendly ones having looked after and raised the “kidnapped” baby boy as their own since he was brought down to their world. Actually, he was not kidnapped but instead rescued from the anything-but-good Snatcher after a fight with the boy’s father, an inventor who befriended the creative Boxtrolls. Willing to do anything to gain power, Snatcher continues to spread evil rumours and his work follows in the footsteps of real-world fascists throughout history, hopefully helping our children to recognise emerging fascism in our own societies. He even goes as far as disguising himself as a beautiful female artist, who also becomes tremendously popular in Cheesebridge and under that more polished persona he is able to further spread myths of hideous Boxtrolls.

The baby-stealing myth is a very effective one, since it speaks to the humanity in almost all of us when the most innocent are targeted. The people responsible must be truly evil to commit such an atrocious act and the myth has been used to falsely portray the wickedness of among others the Romani people, whom have long been an easy target for various fascist movements until present time. Even though the baby-stealing myth might not be used that often nowadays, people with fascist agendas keep making up new myths to demonise and dehumanise the Romani. In countries where there are Romani beggars, they are said to be wealthy or working for wealthy people. The Romani who are doing well are instead accused of stealing, accusations made in order to maintain the idea of a people not like us and not as good. What this negative stereotyping leads to we know very well from history, but it can also be seen in the abuse the beggars are subjected to every day as they are spat on, beaten and have their camps vandalised and set on fire.

In the film, Snatcher continues to point out the evil doings of the Boxtrolls and gradually more people begin to agree with him. It takes years, but fascism is not established quickly. Like a disease it grabs hold of a few who begin spreading it throughout society, testing the waters for what is accepted until they can carry out acts of injustice and violence with either the direct or indirect support of a large part of society. And just as in our real societies it is done with both a more upfront, ugly and violent faction but also with factions that come across as well-dressed, well-spoken and embracing the democratic idea, but they in fact are heads of the same beast. In The Boxtrolls, the duality of fascism is clearly shown in Snatcher’s two sides; the hideous fascist prone to violence that is the real Snatcher and the beautiful female he dresses up as.

The access to the white hat comes with the termination, the genocide, of all the captured Boxtrolls and as it is supposedly completed, the fascist Snatcher – with the support of the townspeople – finally reaches his goal. Even though he is transporting himself in a huge steampunk-like monstrosity which bellows out smoke and seems to destroy the town with every step it takes, people still see him as their saviour, until his true self is revealed as the Boxtrolls appear unharmed in another vehicle and his willingness to murder all the friendly creatures is finally exposed. During the final battle, he falls into a large wheel of brie cheese only to emerge hideously disfigured due to his allergy, his outside appearance showing him as the monster he truly would be with all that power and all that cheese.

The rise of fascism follows the same basic pattern throughout history. It begins with generalised rumours which spread slowly, almost unnoticeably, through society until enough people believe in them. Then more severe rumours are spread and so it continues until an almost complete dehumanisation of the other is complete. On the way, the waters are tested in small-scale violent attacks until enough of society is either openly supportive of the violence or indifferent to the fate of the other. What follows is government-sanctioned persecution and murder and as the fascist monster reveals itself in all its ugliness, we are by then too blind to see what comes out of the brie. The Boxtrolls provides an opportunity for parents and children alike to learn about the emergence of fascism, hopefully before it is too late.

Written by Mattias Danielsson, 2015-02-12