Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Movie Review - Coraline

Coraline ***
Directed By:
Henry Selick.
Written By: Henry Selick based on the book by Neil Gaiman.
Starring: Dakota Fanning (Coraline Jones), Teri Hatcher (Mother/Other Mother), Jennifer Saunders (Miss Spink), Dawn French (Miss Forcible), Keith David (Cat), John Hodgman (Father/Other Father), Robert Bailey Jr. (Wybie Lovat), Ian McShane (Mr. Bobinsky).

Coraline is a film that reminds me of all those original version of the Grimm Fairy Tales, the ones where almost unspeakable violence and terror happen, before the inevitable happy ending. If Disney hadn’t cleaned some of those stories up, they never could have made kids movies out of them. Coraline is a story like that. It involves a little girl who moves into a huge, old house and essentially has no one to play with. Her parents are both busy with their work all the time, and ignore her. She finds a hidden door that leads to a flat just like hers, and has people who look just like her parents. The difference being that they seem to be there for no purpose other than to entertain Coraline, and make her wildest dreams come true. Oh, and they have buttons sewn onto their face instead of eyes. They desperately want Coraline to stay with them forever – the catch being that she too has to have her eyes replaced by buttons.

The movie is directed by Henry Selick, in the same stop motion animation style he used when he directed Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach. Well, almost the same, as I get the impression that more computers were used this time, but the characters still have that unmistakable herky-jerky movement of their predecessors. And the movie looks marvelous. I saw in the film in 3-D, and unlike most 3-D movies, the process wasn’t a distraction this time, but rather it served to enhance the story. Unlike something like Beowulf, where the filmmakers seemed to always being hurling something towards the audience to get the most bang for their buck out of the 3-D, the process is used here simply to deepen the visuals. It’s not eye popping work, but work that nonetheless looks great. If more filmmakers use this technique, than perhaps 3-D movies really will be the wave of the future that many think it could be.

The movie is faithful to the Neil Gaiman book on which is was based more in terms of tone than in terms of story. Characters are added or taken away, events compressed for the sake of time, and yet the movie creates the same uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach that the book did. Coraline is still a little bit of brat – they didn’t soften her too much – but I think that’s the right choice for the film. I tire of children’s stories where either the kids are purely innocent or demon children. Kids can be annoying, and the movie feels a little more real because it recognizes that. Voiced by Dakota Fanning, Coraline is a handful – an inquisitive, imaginative child who demands a lot of attention. Teri Hatcher does a wonderful job as the voice of Coraline’s inattentive mother, and the evil Other Mother on the other side of that door. First all sweetness and kindness, and slowly becoming harder and more cruel. The story is essentially about their clash – and Coraline being brave enough to face it head on, even when she’s scared. The rest of the voice cast – from John (I’m a PC) Hodgman as the father to Keith David as a strange cat to Jennifer Sanders and Dawn French as two strange downstairs neighbors to Ian McShane as the even stranger Mr. Bobinsky upstairs all do their jobs quite well.

Yet the film never reaches the heights of Nightmare Before Christmas, or even James and the Giant Peach. It is a wonderfully animated adventure story, and while it is scary, it’s not overly scary for kids. I have always felt that people don’t seem to trust kids to be able to handle anything dark, but being scared is part of growing up, as Coraline proves. While Coraline may not be a great film, it is certainly a good one, and even more rare, it’s an animated film for kids that is actually intelligent enough for adults to enjoy. That’s enough right there to recommend it.

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