Coraline (2009) / Animation-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG for themes, scary images, some language and suggestive humor
Running time: 100 min.
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Keith David, John Hodgman, Robert Bailey Jr., Ian McShane
Director: Henry Selick
Screenplay: Henry Selick (from the book by Neil Gaiman)
Review published September 17, 2010
Coraline hits its mark for not only being the longest stop-motion animation release to date, but also the first to be shot entirely in 3D. Long becoming an art form that has been increasingly on the wane due to the major advances in 3D computer graphic animation, the film stands out as an achievement in what still can be done in the medium, even if the process isn't as distinguished from its more artificial counterpart in ways that will be noticed by the majority of filmgoers. At the very least, it takes a crew with skill and imagination in turning such a lavish fantasy to life, and the visual component is perhaps the best one can recommend about the film, though it is solid in most other capacities.
Henry Selick (Monkeybone, The Nightmare Before Christmas) directs and adapts his screenplay from the Neil Gaiman childrens book of the same name. In many ways, it is a familiar story of a young girl who walks alone into a realm of fantasy to discover things strange and wonderful that reflect on her real life, not dissimilar to "Alice in Wonderland," The Wizard of Oz, Labyrinth, Pan's Labyrinth, and Gaiman's own MirrorMask.
Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning, Push) is a precocious and headstrong 11-year-old girl arriving in a new home with not much to do, parents too busy with their own business to spend time with her, and no friends to hang out with, save for Wybie (Bailey Jr., The Happening) an oddball boy in the area she doesn't think terribly much of. Wybie brings over a doll she adopts as a new friend to talk to, which she takes to calling "Little Me" due to her uncanny resemblance to Coraline. Strange events begin occurring at night as Coraline walks through a small doorway that is normally bricked up during the day. What's on the other side appears to be a parallel world similar to her home, except with much better furnishings and parents that are far more attentive, loving and talented -- though they do have buttons for eyes. Her so-called "Other Mother" (Hatcher, Resurrecting the Champ) is her dream mom, except that, at some point, Coraline will have to make a choice as to which of the two worlds she wishes to spend her time in.
Coraline maintains its darker themes in alienation of its heroine -- not just an only child, but a lonely child -- in a new environment where there are no friends, and parents that are too preoccupied in their own things to give Coraline the attention and love she's looking for. It's not that her parents aren't loving, but they aren't loving in the way that she wants. So when Coraline walks through the wall portal and finds surrogate parents that make sure her every whim is catered to, she finally feels a sense of belonging and safety, while her actual home life is full of uncertainty and the apprehension that loneliness fosters.
A theme develops in Coraline's story of one of appreciation. Parents aren't always going to exist purely for the well-being of the children. They have to work, care for the house, work on themselves -- it's all a part of also taking care of their children, but children don't always realize it. So, when these children find someone who provides that individual and unwavering attention they aren't getting, they confuse the attention for love, not always realizing that this love comes with a motive, and sometimes a dangerous one. It's a moral lesson oft told from adults to children -- don't talk to strangers.
Although PG-rated and a family film, it should be noted that Coraline is a dark and sometimes unsettling film. It isn't filled with laughter, mirthful characters, and a completely happy ending. It's a truly beautiful film, but even so, it is also intentionally ugly. It shows how the world of fantasy can be so much more beautiful than that of reality, but also far more horrific. Selick displays some disturbing images that, while never truly horrible, may be enough to have children cover their eyes with their hands from time to time. Motifs about of threads, sewing, and entrapment -- like a spider lures its prey only to devour it, which fits in very well to the thematic material. By contrast, Coraline's parents are theoretical gardeners, who should spend more time actually bringing to life and cultivating life and beauty around them, but as they do with Caroline, they don't apply themselves well enough, and things begin to grow in wild, unpredictable ways.
In the end, it's about appreciating the goodness that one actually has in their world, because the ideal world in a child's mind isn't something that can be a reality, because so much of what children think about are purely fantasy elements. Coraline goes right to those fantasies and suggest that reality, even if not ideal, is a preferable place to be. And yet, at the same time, it's also a lesson to those parents watching the film alongside their children that they shouldn't be so self-absorbed as to be practically absent from their children's lives because they are going to look for that love and attention where they can get it, even if it isn't with their own parents.
Coraline features absolutely gorgeous stop-motion animation, more impressive when watched in its original 3D format, bringing to life its characterizations and simple-but-affecting storyline to the forefront, as any good storyteller team should. As beautiful as a fantasy as it is disturbing as a nightmare, this fittingly dream-like tale pleases the eyes and digs into the subconscious to great effect.
©2009, 2010 Vince Leo