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 Coraline (2009)

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: Coraline (2009)   Sat May 02, 2009 4:37 pm

Neil Gaiman published Coraline in 2002, a horror story for children, which found much critical acclaim upon it's release. Before it was published, Gaiman himself saw potential for a film version, and sent an advanced copy of the book to animator Henry Selick, best known for The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and James and the Giant Peach (1996), the latter of which being credited more to it's creator rather than it's director. Selick had just had a rough time in Hollywood, he'd not long completed Monkeybone (2001), whose release was delayed by a year, and was recut by it's studio, who didn't know who the film's target audience would be. Monkeybone was an $80 million flop, Selick had attempted to do something that wasn't entirely animated, and it didn't go according to plan. Where would Selick go from there?? After reading Coraline, the answer was simple, return to animation. And it was a wise decision indeed, as there's no limits as to what one can do in animation. Stop-motion to be precise, a craft he had more or less perfected with his first two films. It would be another 7 years before Coraline would finally be ready. But, it has been well worth the wait, the film version is different, but it keeps it's tone and structure, and the tweaks here and there give the story room to breathe and it gives it more depth. Coraline makes for brilliant and awe-inspiring viewing. It's creepy, scary, never boring and good fun from start to finish.

It begins with the Jones family moving into the Pink Palace Apartments in Ashland, Oregon. The are mother Mel Jones (Teri Hatcher), father Charlie Jones (John Hodgman) and daughter Coraline (Dakota Fanning). The parents both write for a gardening catalogue, and don't seem to have any time for their daughter. Who is not thrilled having left a seemingly happy life back in Detroit. She is also pestered by neighbour Wybie Lovat (Robert Bailey Jr.), who is the grandson of the landlady of the apartments. In the basement flat lives two retired actresses, Miss Spink (Jennifer Saunders) and Miss Forcible (Dawn French), who live a seemingly bohemian lifestyle in flat with their Scottish Terriers (including the stuffed remains of their dead ones). In the attic, lives Mr. Bobinski (Ian McShane), a blue-skinned Russian gymnast, who is training up mice for a circus. One day, Coraline discovers a door, papered and bricked up. Then, at night, she discovers it leads to a parallel world, where there is the Other Mother and Other Father, who have buttons for eyes, it seems better than the boring life she is living back in the real world, but there is a downside, as she soon learns.

Clearly, from an outline like that, it's not going to be for everybody. But, Selick structures the film in such a way that there's a little bit of everything for everybody. The book was such a lovely read, (with vivid and dark illustrations by David McKean), but Selick had his own take on the material, adding things of his own creation, but making them fit in this story. For example, the character of Wybie Lovat wasn't in the film, but it gives Coraline someone to interact with, but he plays a crucial part in this film. The design of the house and it's surroundings are very gothic indeed, and the real world looks very drab with bleached colours, the other world is vibarant and colourful, and filled with things such as furniture shaped like insects and Coraline's father has a Praying Mantis tractor for his gardening. It's not a film which races from one glorious set piece to another. No, it's pace is slow, and it gives us time to take in the beauty of the surroundings. It also fleshes out it's characters, giving them purpose and place. Like a film by Pixar, it's a case of story and characters first, everything else second. But, when it comes to the visuals, they're exquisite, Selick also did the production design, and he has a very good imagination indeed. Gaiman's book was a template for him to go wild with his imagination. Although it is different from the book, it is still wonderful to behold, and it's a both beautiful and scary to watch.

The characters are done justice by a good vocal cast, Dakota Fanning gives really attitude as Coraline, who could have been annoying, but she's a character of who is brave, clever, sassy and full of life. Hatcher is a stand-out, doing double-vocal duties as Coraline's harrased mother and the seemingly sweet Other Mother. French and Saunders as the Forcible and Spink is stunt casting, but it pays off in one, quite disturbing, musical number in a theatre in the Other World. McShane adds warmth and eccentricity as Bobinski. Then there's the cat, (voiced by Keith David), who guides Coraline through this world, at first, you don't know whether to trust him or not, but that's just the way he is. Wybie Lovat is the same, you don't know what to make of him at first, he's also a bit of an oddball, and his friendship with Coraline is love/hate, which makes for a good alliance. The music by Bruno Coulais is brilliant to listen to, They Might Be Giants had originally wrote 10 songs for the film, but with the film's dark tone at odds with the music, only one song remained, the piano ditty Coraline's father performs entitled 'Other Father Song'.

It's a beautiful little film, one which gives CGI animation a run for it's money. As there's a realism to stop-motion animation, sure it takes longer to do, but it true 3-D animations, as characters, objects and settings have a physical depth that you don't get with CGI films. Selick has proven he doesn't need someone like Tim Burton to help make a successful film, after a couple of false starts, he's come through as a brilliant director of animation in his own right. He always was, but this is his first major project which he wrote as well as designed as well. Let's hope we see more like this from him, he's always shown great promise, (he did the underwater creatures and effects for Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.)



Coraline is truly a brilliant piece of animation, it's very dark, but too dark so that kids would get scared by it, in fact it's grown ups who are more likely to be scared by it!! Especially with the finale in the Other World. But, it's shown Selick has a brilliant imagination and he's brought out the best in Gaiman's book. It doesn't matter that there's differences, it helps to enhance the story, (even Gaiman approves of Selick's version.) It is very similiar to Alice in Wonderland, (a young girl finding herself lost in a strange world.) But, it's got much more invention and originality than alot of other films out this year put together. Stop motion is the best form of animation to go for as it looks and feels real, and although alot of this is aided by CGI in certain places. It's a really amazing film to watch. More please Mr. Selick!! Very Happy
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PostSubject: Re: Coraline (2009)   Tue May 12, 2009 1:15 am

A great write-up Don. Just back from seeing this now, excellent film.

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