Coraline [retro review]

“You probably think this world is a dream come true… but you’re wrong.”

The Scoop: 2009 PG, directed by Henry Selick and starring Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher and Keith David

Tagline: Be careful what you wish for.

Summary Capsule: Little girl explores her house to find… another house, her house, but not quite.

Justin’s Rating: I just naturally operate under the assumption that behind every door is Narnia.

Justin’s Review: “It’s not CAROline, it’s CORAline,” the star of our motion picture constantly corrects. We’re not quite sure why her parents up and reversed the vowels to make an odd-sounding name, but that’s the least of her worries in this wonderful fantasy flick from the mind of Neil Gaiman.

Coraline is a young adult/children’s book that Gaiman wrote back in 2002 that explored the fantasy staple of going through a portal to another world (see: Lion, Witch and Wardrobe, et al). The twist, in both the book and the film, was that the new world in question was just like our current world – a parallel world, if you may – except everything seemed better.

Seemed.

Young Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is despondant over a family move to the rainy Pacific northwest – I don’t know why she’s down, at least now she can fall in love with a sparkly vampire and have lots of non-sexual snugglies – and takes to exploring her new home as both her parents are too preoccupied with a major writing project to keep her company. The more she looks, the more reality seems to unravel; perhaps it’s the socially dysfunctional Wybie, the incredibly tall Russian mouse trainer, the eerie black cat that follows her everywhere, or the two retired actresses in the basement. Or perhaps, even, it’s a small door in a non-descript room that appears to be bricked in, except at night.

Through the door she goes, and into a house exactly like hers – except, as mentioned before, everything’s much better, her parents pay attention to her, the annoying kid is mute, and wonders are just around the corner. Oh, and everyone has buttons for eyes.

Say what? It’s here where Neil Gaiman injects his particular blend of dark fantasy, where you’re not quite sure if you should be feeling dread or excitement. Yes, things are off in the “other” world, but who wouldn’t want to explore this place if given half the chance?

Fans of the stop-motion claymation films The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach will be tickled pink that director Henry Selick returns to helm Coraline and give it its distinctive Hot Topic look. (Man, we pick on that store a lot around here, don’t we?) When compared to hand-drawn animation or CGI, claymation has a certain raw solidity to it that is hard to duplicate otherwise. Applied to a fantasy setting, it gives the settings and characters the right sort of tone that you’d expect if you were sitting down with a large illustrated storybook. Your eyes won’t be disappointed in the least, here. Unless they’re buttoned up.

Your mind might be, however. Although, taken as a whole, Coraline is a great flick, it’s also a trifle long (odd, for such a painstaking process like claymation) and full of silences and pauses where the story doesn’t halt so much as take a catnap. One way of looking at it would be to applaud a filmmaker who’s not afraid to let silence have a place in the story, but another way would be to say “hurry UP!” The plot had to be lengthened from the book, so there’s a lot more dithering back and forth between the worlds, and the main crisis doesn’t take form until well into the third act.

Still, the kids in my theater (and there were legions of them) were utterly silent, entranced by this movie, even through its darker parts, and that speaks to great lengths of how well the ultimate effect of the movie works. By the end, you really have come to like the unique, odd personalities, including Coraline, and I wasn’t disappointed, even though I couldn’t see the 3D effects with my gimpy left eye.

So kids, if you find a peculiar door in your explorations that goes who-knows-where, don’t be afraid to crawl right on through! Just be aware that you might lose cell phone reception and your sanity.

Yum!

Intermission!

  • In the trailer, when they show Coraline’s other father he is wearing Monkeybone slippers. Monkeybone was another film directed by Henry Selick.
  • References to Michigan and Detroit
  • In the Other World the Other Mother is making Coraline an omelette. She cracks and egg and when it drops in to the bowl you can see that the egg yolk is the face of Jack Skellington from Nightmare Before Christmas
  • At one hour and forty minutes long, this is the longest stop-motion film to date and was the first stop-motion animated feature to be shot entirely in 3-D.

Groovy Quotes

Cat: You probably think this world is a dream come true… but you’re wrong.

Sweet Ghost Girl: Be clever, Miss. She’ll never let you leave, even if you win the game.

Coraline Jones: How can you walk away from something and then come towards it?
Cat: Walk around the world.
Coraline Jones: Small world.

Coraline Jones: I think I heard someone calling you… Wyborn.
Wybie Lovat: What? I didn’t hear anything.
Coraline Jones: Oh, I definitely heard someone… Why-were-you-born.

Mr. Bobinsky: I am the Amazing Bobinsky! But you- call me Mr. B. Because, amazing, I already know that I am.

Other Father: So sharp, you won’t feel a thing…

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5 Comments

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