Henry Selick’s latest stop motion adventure is his most beautiful yet and while after a first viewing it isn’t my favorite of his work, there is definitely a lot of room for this one to grow on a second and third go around.
Coraline and her family have just moved into an apartment up in Oregon so that they can concentrate on their writing for gardening magazine. As they dwell on their computers working, Coraline’s boredom builds and builds as she desperately tries and fines something to do to entertain her. Added on top of this, Coraline also doesn’t really jive with the rules of her parents, like most kids, and wishes for a life where she gets her favorite foods for dinner and won’t have dessert held hostage from her. One distraction she has around is an awkward neighborhood boy Wybie, though he and the local cat that hangs around him are more of a nuisance than anything. Her family’s house is broken into three apartments, which also allow for some eccentric neighbors as well. Upstairs is a Mr. Bobinsky, a giant Russian man with skinny legs that is training and talking to his mice to perform a jumping circus. And downstairs resides a pair of sisters who are ex-actresses who spend their day’s playing cards and admiring their entire history of stuffed Scottie’s dogs lining their shelves.
All of these character are essentially deemed uninteresting enough for her attention so she instead spends her days investigating her house with a doll from Wybie that looks incredibly similar to herself. In these adventures she discovers a small door, think Being John Malkovich, and once she eventually gains access, she discovers a world similar to the one she knows, but her “Other Mother” makes all her favorite foods, has all the time in the world for her, and is a blast to hang out with; same goes for her “Other Father” and Wybie has been made mute. The only thing odd to Coraline is the fact that everyone has buttons for eyes, like the doll that she carries around her house that looks like her. Much to her chagrin, Coraline is transported back to her dull real world when she goes to bed, but she begins a habit of sneaking back to her “Other Family” only to discover that the world may not be everything that it seems.
First off, the film looks amazing! I mean, you could go into it and hate the story and characters and still walk out of it thinking it was worth your time. The detail and colors are vibrant and wonderful with beautiful camera work and some incredibly jaw dropping shots put together by Selick and crew. Add to this the incredible use of 3-D and you have a visual feast that is extraordinary. The film was shot specifically for 3-D as well, so it isn’t a crappy after effect like Nightmare Before Christmas was, and they were able to create some wonderful depth to the picture. The 3-D isn’t about jumping out at you, Selick and his team create and amazing depth of the field to the picture that makes the already amazing models comes even more to life.
With that said, I don’t know if the film’s story is executed as well as the visuals. It’s not that things are bad; it’s just not very orthodox and different. Story structure, pacing, and tone are all a bit all over the place from time to time and it is hard to settle in to the picture (though this could also be due to the five minute fire alarm interlude I had to sit through). Though, like I mentioned earlier, I think repeat viewings will make for settling in to the picture a lot easier as you will know what to expect and I imagine the film will only grow as time goes on and could potentially turn into an animation classic.
The film is very dark at times to forewarn, since some of you might head into this thinking it is more kiddy affair. Coraline’s plot is a familiar child rebellion story but Neil Gaiman’s book creates such a lush and fun world for Selick to play in. And even though the town can get dark and odd, there are some marvelously wonderful moments that are light and beautiful to balance everything out. The spinning piano sequence and the blooming garden in particular are amazing to watch unfold and baffling to how they made it all possible.
In the end, Coraline is a beautiful piece of living art that is an interesting and odd story at times; but that is a good thing. Selick creates a world that is stunning to watch come to life and the 3-D is on par with Beowulf for best use of the technology yet. I have to see it again in 3-D before having to settle with the eventual Blu-Ray (though, 3-D Blu-Ray technology on par with the theater experience isn’t too far away I hear), and I really feel like I will be able to get an even stronger handle on this picture in the second viewing. If you are a fan of animation or fantasy story telling this is not to be missed, as it should stand up as one of the finest of both genres this year, and I guarantee the only visual experience that might rival this year are Pixar’s UP and James Cameron’s Avatar, which should both showcase some amazing 3-D as well. Go see Coraline, you won’t be disappointed, a great tale for all ages.
Coraline is a B+
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