Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Coraline (2009)

Director: Henry Selick

Spoiler-Free Summary

Coraline is a precocious 10-year old girl who is bored out of her mind. Her parents move their family to a new town, into a large, shared house, where her mother and father can write gardening books. The house also gives residence to a few other odd denizens, including a former circus performer who trains mice to perform acrobatic feats, and two former burlesque performers who are now in their advanced years and have a fetish for Scottish Terriers.

On their first afternoon in the new apartment, Coraline discovers a small door covered over with wallpaper. After finding the key, she crawls through and finds a bizarre alternative universe, which appears much like her own but with startling differences. In this "other" world, her parents, who look the same except for the unnerving feature of having buttons for eyes, pay the utmost attention to her, give her whatever she likes, and dazzle her with various eye-catching antics and spectacles. Coraline goes right along for the fun-filled ride, right up until she grows tired and goes to bed in this happier version of her own world. When she wakes, she finds herself back in her own humdrum surroundings, complete with her dull parents.

Coraline's "other" parents sure act friendly and caring,
but those button eyes are creepy for a reason.
After a few more night of retreating to the other world, Coraline starts to figure out that something is amiss with her new-found paradise. Between her own intuition and hints from a mangy cat, she realizes that the "alternative" family's intentions are far from benevolent. She soon has to use all of her cunning and resources to evade the various traps set up by the other mother, who is far more terrifying than Coraline could ever have known.

What Did I Think?

Coraline is a wonderfully imaginative and novel children's tale that I would hesitate to show many children. To put it plainly - it would freak them the hell out.

I guess this is to be expected from the director that brought us The Nightmare Before Christmas. Obviously, Henry Selick is not afraid to mix elements of horror in with the more light-hearted whimsical tales that appeal to children. Pairing him up with Neil Gaiman - the brilliant storyteller behind many a popular children's and adults' tale - was bound to produce a singular type of film. And it did, in all the right ways.

The story is truly the stuff of an imaginative child's fantasy: an alternate world where your parents have all the time in the world for you and are interesting and fun. Of course, this veneer of paradise masks an insidious terror, but we can't know exactly what it is until Coraline does. Her uncovering of it carries the film along nicely.

Just one of the many lush, vibrant sets in which the story
takes place. The three dimensions truly do add a more
palpable sense of place, which is something that even
the very best 2D animated films lack. 
The stop-motion animation is wonderful. It's a labor-intensive art form, but one that sets films like this apart from most other animated movies. It may not have the smooth graphics of a Pixar movie or the simple majesty of the classically hand-rendered films popularized by Disney, but the three-dimensional settings and characters do add a sense of tactile richness to Coraline. There is something that I think we viewers, on an unconscious level, see as more impressive about these films. It enhances the wonder that is already a major part of the tale.

And like all great animated movies, this one is hardly just for kids. Sure, young people (who don't scare easily) will follow along with glee and amazement, but there's plenty of "adult" humor. The retired burlesque performers who live downstairs from Coraline are prime examples of this, but there are plenty of others.

Coraline is a really fun film that I would gladly sit down and watch with a kid who hadn't seen it before, provided they can handle some dark and scary imagery that might give a nervous youngster some serious nightmares.