directed by Henry Selick
I don't know why Coraline has blue hair. I have no idea why the acrobatic mouse-trainer, Mr. Bobinsky, has blue skin.
Otherwise, I'm pretty well thrilled with the cinematic adaptation of Neil Gaiman's classic children's horror tale, Coraline.
Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) and her depressingly unpleasant parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) are newly moved to a spacious apartment in a rambling old house in Oregon, far from Coraline's friends and former life in Michigan. With distant and distracted parents, elderly and eccentric neighbors and a decidedly odd neighborhood boy -- seemingly the only person around who's even close to Coraline's age -- Coraline passes the time exploring her new home. The first exciting thing about the place is a tiny door, wallpapered over and hidden behind a chair in a disused room.
It opens onto a brick wall. But at night, when Coraline should be sleeping, the wall vanishes into a mysterious tunnel. Coraline of course crawls through and finds a house almost identical to her own -- but where her house is sparse and dreary, this one is finished and lovely; these parents, more importantly, are lively and loving, doting on Coraline to her absolute delight.
More disturbingly -- although accepted at first with a child's innocence -- is that Coraline's Other Mother and Other Father have doll-like buttons for eyes. Coraline is swept away by the incredible food, the magical garden, her suddenly exciting neighbors and, most of all, the lavish attention she receives from these parents.
Each visit to this parallel world ends when Coraline goes to sleep and wakes in her own boring room. But her Other Mother says it can all be made permanent if only Coraline would agree to have buttons sewn into her own eyes.
Coraline finally balks, and her disobedience earns her a trip to a closet already populated by the ghosts of three children previously swayed by the Other Mother's persuasions. Coraline escapes to her own world and home -- but the Other Mother doesn't give up so easily, and Coraline's adventure is only beginning.
Coraline, the movie, can be judged on two plains: how it compares to Gaiman's original story and how well it stands on its own.
It stands alone extremely well. Coraline is delightfully creepy, and Coraline is an appealing, endearing character who is easy to sympathize with and cheer for.
The 3-D stop-motion animation -- those questionable coloring choices aside -- is exceptional. The movement is fluid, the set pieces are colorful -- or drab, as appropriate -- and the characters' facial expressions are quirky and easy to read. The otherworldly garden and jumping mouse circus are both feasts for the eyes -- although a stage performance by the geriatric Misses Spink and Forcible is a trifle overly fleshy in an "Ick! Oh my god!" kind of way.
The film sometimes establishes a mood and plot that could easily cause nightmares in young viewers, so parents should consider previewing Coraline before letting children under the age of 13 see it. (We did, and decided to go ahead and scare the heck out of our 11-year-old daughter.) Any child who can handle something a bit more macabre than, say, The Corpse Bride should come away from Coraline with wide eyes and a big old grin.
Comparisons to Gaiman's original tale are a little trickier. Things have been cut and altered, obviously, but most of the changes can be explained by the differing needs of a book and a movie. (Director Henry Selick, who was also at the helm of The Nightmare Before Christmas, adapted Gaiman's prose for the screenplay.)
One of the most significant additions to the story is Wybie, the hunched and awkward neighbor boy. I was prepared to dislike him on principle alone, but Wybie is a winning character. Also, his conversations with Coraline help provide background that Gaiman could reveal by tapping into Coraline's thoughts. In short, it works.
There's also a button-eyed doll that, frankly, I didn't recognize the first time around as being an addition to the story because, wow, it fits so neatly into the overall package. (On the other hand, the giant insect furniture was a dumb idea.)
The only real failure here, in my mind, is that Gaiman allowed Coraline to handle the final climax through her own courage and ingenuity. The film adaptation instead requires Wybie to save the day. Movies, it seems, have a hard time letting girls be the hero.
That one failing aside, I'm completely sold on Coraline. It's an excellent job all around.
21 March 2009
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directed by Henry Selick
Coraline is a unique viewing experience on many levels, not least of which is that everything you see on screen was made by hand. Take that, Pixar.
The three years' effort this amazing project took was worth every stitch. Based on the beloved best-selling novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman, Coraline is a classic story in a modern setting that is a masterpiece of kid-friendly horror and old-fashioned, goosepimply-type storytelling. It is the first movie ever to be filmed in entirely high-definition, stop-motion animation, combined with some fairly awesome CGI effects.
A major achievement for writer-director Henry Selick, the creative genius behind The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride, Coraline is one of the most remarkable feats of imagination this side of The Wizard of Oz. Although this is not something a small child should see, being rated PG, older children and adults with a decent enough imagination will find this sinister, funny story a real feast for the eyes and soul.
Eleven-year-old Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning) has moved with her family from Michigan to Oregon, and she isn't happy about it. Having left behind her friends and a more comfortable, more familiar life, she finds herself living in a rambling, multi-level house incongruously named the Pink Palace. Her neighbors are as eccentric as they come, with two retired vaudeville sisters, Miss Forcible (Dawn French) and Miss Spink (Jennifer Saunders), and Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane), a Russian acrobat who is allegedly training mice to be in a circus band. Coraline's parents are no help. Involved with their own lives, they barely have the time for her, spending all day writing about gardening, which they happen to hate. Everything is boring, until Coraline finds the door.
Although there doesn't appear to be anything behind the door but a brick wall, Coraline believes it does lead somewhere. With a bit of help from some industrious mice, she finds a tunnel to another world remarkably like her own, but different in significant ways.
For one thing, her parents care about her in the dreamworld. Other Mother and Other Father shower her with attention, love and a kitchen full of delicious food. Her neighbors aren't weird at all; rather, they are fascinating and delightful, from the vaudeville shows of Mistresses Spink and Forcible to the mouse circus of Mr. Bobinsky. The garden is a wonderland of bright flowers and flowing trees. Nothing's as it should be, but is as she would have it be. The only creepy thing is that her family, as do all the denizens of that other world, have buttons for eyes.
Falling asleep in that world finds her waking up in her own rather more gray and ordinary world. Of course she returns to the fantasy world again, knowing in her heart that this world is in its own way as real as the world she's left behind. Enter the voice of reason in the form of a scrawny black cat (Keith David), the one she's seen hanging around the Pink Palace she came from, except that here, he can talk. And he warns her, naturally, that things are not as they seem. All the best children's literature deal with the theme of being careful what you ask for, and Gaiman's story is no different, since dealing with heavy morality tales is his specialty. Once she realizes that Other Mother not only wants to keep her there forever, but is also holding her real mother and father hostage, Coraline has a decision to make. Of course, matching wits with a clever monster is no mean feat, but she has lots of help from the talking, self-important cat and the ghosts of three children whose lives were stolen by Other Mother over years past.
Coraline is as creepy and cool as it is funny and engaging. In terms of the actual technical craft of the movie itself, it's as vivid, dreamlike and rich in texture as Gaiman's highly developed, very detailed story. It also pulls off the rare trick of not allowing the special effects to overwhelm the story. Selick's talents as an animator have always worked in favor of including the audience, not insulting their intelligence, by presenting the animation as a gift, a labor of love, not some cheap-knock-off of a kid's book. The result is always intense, scary -- which is what a cautionary fairy tale is supposed to be -- and involving.
This is truly one of the best, and most satisfying, children's movies ever made. Don't miss it.
28 March 2009
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