|Theatrical Movie Reviews Theatrical|
|Written by Daniel Hirshleifer|
|Saturday, 07 February 2009|
That’s what things were like for Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning). Having moved away from her friends so her parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) could write books about gardening, despite both of them hating to be out in the dirt and mud, Coraline found herself adrift and alone. She tries to find company with the other denizens of her building. There’s Miss Spink and Miss Forcible (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French), aging thespians who spend their time tending to their many dogs. There’s Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane), an athletically obsessed jumping mouse trainer. And then there’s Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.), grandson of the building’s owner, and his semi-feral cat (Keith David). None of them interest her as much as a small door hidden behind the wallpaper of the apartment’s living room. While at first the door seems bricked up, at night it opens up to an alternate apartment, where Coraline is greeted by her Other Mother and Other Father. These people look just like her real parents, except they have buttons for eyes. They’re also much nicer than Coraline’s real parents, showering her with gifts and lavish meals. Coraline loves her Other parents so much that she considers staying with them forever, until she discovers that her Other Mother’s love isn’t entirely unconditional.
Coraline is the newest film from director Henry Selick, who, despite the confusing wording, was the director of Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas. The movie is based on a book by Sandman and Stardust author Neil Gaiman. Selick is one of my favorite animation directors. Gaiman is one of my favorite writers. The two seem like a match made in heaven, and Coraline doesn’t disappoint. From the opening moments, where an ominous pair of autonomous hands sews a Coraline lookalike doll, the film enchants with a glorious visual sense that is only enhanced by the fact that it is in 3D. At no time does this feel like a gimmick. Instead of popping things out towards the audience, Selick wisely uses 3D to give the picture and sense of depth and shading to complement the story.
Even if the 3D weren’t utilized, Coraline is still a sumptuous feast for the eyes. The stop-motion animation is the best I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen many examples of the format. Coraline is an especially wonderful creation, with a great range of expressions that make her relatable to the audience. Not all the character models are as detailed. Her mother is a little generic (less so in Other Mother form), while Miss Spink and Miss Forcible are nothing but caricatures. On the other hand, Mr. Bobinsky is so wonderfully designed and animated that I could watch a spin-off just about him and his mice.
Of course, the animation would be nothing but window dressing if it weren’t for a good story, and Selick doesn’t skimp in this department either. Adapting the picture from Gaiman’s book required a few extensions, including the addition of a brand new character in Wybie, but Selick never pads things out just to sustain a runtime. Perhaps the excruciating amount of work it takes to animate even a minute of stop motion is responsible for this storytelling economy. Being a modern fairy tale, Coraline does take a few storytelling liberties (a second act bauble is introduced out of the blue, which becomes vital in the third, for example), but for the most part keeps a good focus on Coraline and her quest. The voice acting is generally top notch, although Teri Hatcher just sounded like Teri Hatcher. The rest is great, especially Dakota Fanning (whom I don’t normally like), Keith David as the aloof but helpful feline, and Ian McShane.
It should be noted that for a kid’s film, Coraline is especially dark. While The Nightmare Before Christmas was also dark, it was tempered by the fact that almost all of the characters, with the exception of Oogie-Boogie, were presented as ultimately friendly and even lovable. There’s no such safety net in Coraline. When the Other Mother’s true intentions become clear, the film drop dives from magical whimsy to the stuff of nightmares. While I actually loved this aspect of the film (and it’s just as present in the original book), parents should be forewarned that younger children may find much of the imagery in the final third quite disturbing and scary.
Coraline is an impressive feat of stop-motion animation that easily stands shoulder to shoulder with the best examples of the format. The technical aspects, including the 3D presentation, are all top notch, and matched with a wonderful story based off of Neil Gaiman’s enchanting book. This is a film to treasure and revel in its wonders time and again.