In a town called Cheesebridge live the box trolls, creatures which emerge by night and are said to snatch children in Laika's latest 3D stop-motion animated movie, premiering at the Venice film festival.
"The unspeakable has happened!" a breathless townsman cries to the mayor in the opening scene. "We must speak of it immediately!"
Thus begins a rollicking adventure with moments of Monty Python-inspired humour, starring a superb cross-dressing baddy who steals the show from his animated co-stars.
Based on Alan Snow’s bestselling fantasy adventure book "Here Be Monsters", "The Box Trolls" tells the tale of a community of cardboard-box like creatures who raise a human boy, voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright of "Game of Thrones".
Far below the cobblestones, the boy, Eggs, lives in a huge cavern, larking around with his adopted family -- inventors by nature -- while residents of the Victorian-era town spend their days obsessing about cheese and fearing the trolls.
Enter the villainous Archibald Snatcher, voiced by Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley, who persuades distracted Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) to award him a much-coveted white hat -- raising him to the town's elite -- if he gets rid of the trolls.
Laika, the American team behind "Coraline" and "ParaNorman", both Academy Award nominees for Best Animated Feature Film, used a combination of stop-motion, CGI effects and hand animation for "The Box Trolls".
"The book has a very visceral, sooty, dirty quality and stop motion was perfect for that because CGI by itself can feel very light, too clean," producer Travis Knight told journalists in Italy's floating city.
- 'We are box trolls' -
Anthony Stacchi, who directed the work along with Graham Annable, said they had wanted to evoke "that Roald Dahl quality that all the adults are useless and the kids know better."
"We saw it early on as a sort of Oliver Twist made by Monty Python," he said.
The decision to cast Hempstead was made after the team saw him in "Games of Thrones" and noticed he had "a naive, feral quality to his voice, perfect for a boy who eats bugs," he said.
"We took his voice from Games of Thrones and played it over images of the Eggs character, then next to the other voices we were choosing to check they fitted together. Its kind of like putting together a band," he added.
The grubby boy's journey from sewer-babe to the palaces of power is let down in part by saccharine moments between Eggs and the mayor's daughter, Winnie (Elle Fanning), who helps defend the trolls, as well as an overkill of morality messages.
"We are a small studio and the kind of films we do are rooted in an indie philosophy. We explore films we believe are more challenging, thought-provoking, and richer than those made by the big animation studios," Knight said.
"The box trolls live in squalor, they have questionable hygiene, they're creative and work in the dark: we animators are box trolls," he said.