I’d heard from a couple of friends how wonderful the film Coraline is, but it took me a few months before I finally sat down and screened this movie. In a word: wow!
I’m a fan of just about every type of film making, from the interpolated rotoscoping of the weird A Scanner Darkly to the stop-motion of Wallace and Gromit to the beautiful, distinctive animation of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away to the almost completely green-screened adventure Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, if it tells a good story, it’s good with me.
If you recall the weird but fascinating The Nightmare Before Christmas, you’ve seen the amazing stop-motion work of director Henry Selick. The writer of that film was the always-peculiar but terrific Tim Burton. Coraline has a different writer, though it has a very similar look and style.
Stop-motion animation is great for kids, but as a father of three younger children, I have to say right up front that Coraline is not a film for children. It got a PG rating from the MPAA, but I think that purely for thematic elements I’d have thought a PG-13 would have been more appropriate. An under-10 who saw this would have serious challenges sleeping for many days thereafter.
The story has Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) a young girl who moves into a strange old house with her workaholic parents (voiced by Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman), who are working on a garden catalog and hoping to strike it big. They’re both far too busy for her, however, and she’s left to her own devices, depressed and disappointed about the move that’s taken her away from her friends. A funny little boy named Wybie (voiced by Robert Bailey Jr.) gives her a doll that looks just like her, but with button eyes.
But that’s not just a doll, it’s actually a powerful malevolent force that lures Caroline into an alternative world where she has a highly attentive mother and father, all the treats she desires, and the unfurnished house has been transformed into a beautiful Victorian. But it’s not real and it’s not safe, though she finds it very enticing when contrasted with the gray tedium of her real life.
In a plot element reminiscent of the quite frightening Spiderwick Chronicles, Caroline finds that a secret ring she’s given lets her see through the artifice of the evil button-eyed witch. It’s an interesting element because of course what we’re seeing is projected through the “ring” of the projector lens when watching a movie. One of the many deep elements in this ostensible children’s film. (actually, it’s based on a graphic novel by the talented Neil Gaiman).
One of the many elements of this film I really enjoyed was how the dark mirror world decomposes and unwinds as Coraline proceeds with her unravelling of the evil web. The images as she climbs out of the enormous web are astonishing: how on earth did Selick create this imagery?
I won’t share any more of the story line lest I ruin this wonderful — and creepy — film, but I have to say that it was one of the more interesting movies I’ve seen so far this year. From the visuals to the lovely musical score by Bruno Coulais and They Might Be Giants, it’s a fascinating film well worth watching. But it’s not for kids.