Posted on 11/28/09 09:35 AM
Pixar Studios can be seen as the current master in animation. ?Finding Nemo,? ?WALL-E,? and the ?Toy Story? films are all on the masterpiece level regarding animation film making. However, not too long ago there was a film titled, ?Nightmare Before Christmas,? a dark, sprawling musical dealing with a creepy Halloween-world filled with dark, unique, and quirky characters. Although computer animation is great and all, I really miss stop-motion animation. ?Coraline? is directed by Henry Selick, the helmer of the aforementioned ?Nightmare Before Christmas? and the stellar ?James and the Giant Peach,? an adaption that finely blends stop-motion with live action imagery. It?s easy to go into ?Coraline? expecting the next ?Nightmare Before Christmas.? However, people tend to forget what made Tim Burton?s classic a true creepy gem. It wasn?t so much the narrative that drove ?Nightmare? towards the scary side of things, but the imagery and odd-looking characters embedded in the work. ?Coraline? is not only a visual fiesta, but also manages to craft a dark and ominous story wrapped around strange characters and a talented voice cast.
Dakota Fanning is the voice behind Coraline, a ten year old girl who has just moved into a new apartment with her parents, voiced by Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman. The first 15 minutes or so reveals Coraline as a wandering and bored child. She tries to strike conversations with her parents, but they?re too busy working on the garden catalog. Coraline barely befriends Wybie, an annoying, curly haired boy who lives in the same pink Victorian where her apartment resides. He is surprised his grandmother rented to the Joneses, but nevertheless proceeds to give a doll to Coraline; it pays a striking resemblance to Coraline and has buttons for eyes. Furthermore, while wandering throughout her new apartment, Coraline discovers a small door, though on the other side of it there only appears to be a brick wall. However, when night comes Coraline follows a small mouse into the same small door, but this time revealing a spirally tunnel to a strange and dream-like world. Comparisons to ?The Wizard of Oz,? ?Spirited Away,? and ?Pan?s Labyrinth? will probably materialize in most viewers? heads after viewing this upside down paradise.
Why is it a paradise? Well, Coraline?s parents, though having buttons for eyes, pay extremely close attention to her, catering to her every need. Her new friend Wybie is reformed to a quiet mute, unable to speak or say anything; just the way our lead would want him. Instead of calling her other-world parents mother or father, she calls them other mother and other father. Although the first visit is a quick one, the picture endlessly revisits Coraline?s ?Oz.? Great supporting work comes in the form of Robert Downey Jr., Ian McShane, Dawn French, and Jennifer Saunders. They play Coraline?s quirky neighbors who provide amusing laughs and entertainment. As the film moves along the story begins to dramatically shift gears. Coraline?s fantastical world begins to turn into a nightmarish, anti-Utopian. This sparks ?Coraline?s? major themes; Life?s imperfections wrapped in a coming-of-age tale.
Kids who haven?t seen too many scary movies or weird looking films might be too freaked out by the direction Selick takes. At first the world is a beautiful looking piece of paradise. Flowers grow everywhere, birthday cakes come to life, etc. Selick takes this beautiful world and completely turns it onto itself. The more intelligent viewers, adults, will probably not be surprised to see Coraline?s fantasy turn to nightmare. Others, however, might be too scared to grasp the concept Selick adapts from Gainman?s classic novel. I think one of film?s most chilling scenes revolves around the turning point; Other mother asks Coraline to become permanently attached to this other-world, and tells her to replace her eyes for buttons. I don?t think you?ll find this type of scenario in a Disney film like ?The Little Mermaid? or ?The Fox and the Hound.?
?Coraline? does suffer a bit in its last act. Visually it is sublime, containing one of the more brilliantly crafted animation sequences in years, as we see Coraline?s ?Oz? slowly shatter, then recreate itself like a dream would do. Perhaps the story goes on for ten minutes too long. Coraline has to complete three tasks, and this sort of thing had the look and feel of a low-priced, kiddy video game you pick up at Target for 19.99. Nevertheless, ?Coraline? is a visual gem with a stellar cast of characters to support its satisfying story. The stop-motion animation style is a breath of fresh air and the dark and ominous look and tone is perfectly captured by brilliant filmmaker Henry Selick. ?Coraline? is such a delight it may even give Pixar a run for its money come Oscar time.