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Coraline (2009) – Widge’s Movie Review

Coraline poster art

Written by: Henry Selick, based on the book by Neil Gaiman
Directed by: Henry Selick
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman, Keith David, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Ian McShane

My Advice: Don’t miss it

Coraline (voiced by Fanning) is a young girl who finds herself uprooted from her friends and school by her parents, instead living in a converted house in Oregon called The Pink Palace. Her mother (Hatcher) is a bit domineering and her father (Hodgman) is a bit distracted (and unhealthy looking…Jesus, even I look better than that…WTF, Mr. Selick?) but it appears they’re preoccupied but loving and trying to get by. Coraline, though, being bored and trapped in a new place, desires more. And she finds it in spades when she discovers a hidden door–it leads to a world populated by her Other Parents. Everything’s perfect over there–her parents exist just to entertain her and feed her and clothe her and love her…but what’s the price for all this attention? And what does it mean to her real parents and real life?

[ad#longpost]I must admit I felt a great deal of trepidation when faced with the various versions of this adaptation over the years. Partly because I was afraid it would lose what I felt was the best part of the book: the inherent dual nature of the story. By that I mean what I laid out in my book review all those many moons ago: kids and adults can read the same book and get two completely different things out of it. Kids see a creepy adventure; adults are creeped right the hell out. This because adults get an understanding of just exactly how much trouble Coraline is in. How, I wondered, could you put this across in a film? Successfully, I mean.

Well, while I was right to be worried, Selick and his crew pulled it off. There’s just something wince-inducing about the box with the needle and buttons being placed in front of Coraline. There’s just something so wrong about Other Mother tapping her button eyes. And there’s just something amazingly gah-ridden about Other Mother in general, especially when she turns into a cross between Stephen King‘s IT and the Gerald Scarfe-designed Mother from The Wall. I don’t think that’s a spoiler given the trailers.

The world of the film (both of them) is why it works so well. It’s the little touches that make it all work. The fact that I absolutely dig the hell out of Forcible and Spink’s dogs. The badass Coraline sweater complete with glow in the dark stars (which somebody needs to sell). The Other Garden springing to life. The magical mouse circus sequence. The fact that I can’t tell what was CG and what was stop motion most of the time. And the 3-D seemed to be fantastic as well, although frankly I couldn’t tell most of the time due to the sub-par glasses and perhaps the implementation of the 3-D at the cinema where we saw it. I don’t want to name names, because that would be indiscrete (Movies ATL). But the bits that were obviously 3-D like the hands from Father’s piano were fantastic.

As an aside, it’s a good thing that they went with stop motion instead of some concepts of the film that would have been live action. Live action I don’t think you could get away with as much creepy as they do here.

It is truly an amazing work. Highly recommended for parents and kids or just adults with no kids. It’s one of the best fantasy stories on the screen in some time, and possibly the most kid-friendly horror movie of all time.

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  • Coraline will more likely than not lose its 3-D screens to the Jonas Brother’s Concert Film this weekend. So, I urge anyone who hasn’t seen it to do so in the next 4 days.

  • My daughter and I saw it last week and liked it. It is a fun, creepy movie. That said, if you have little kids who are easily scared, the “other mother” might be too much for them.

  • Unlike similar stories, any sense of timelessness is destroyed by the presence of cellphones, laptops, and possibly the only stop-motion animated Apple IIe ever. But like the rest of “the real world,” even the product-placement Volkswagen Beetle seemed drab, gray, and technologically disconnected. While adults understands that these are the tools of modern society and business, it’s also easy to see that these same things are also what keeps relationships separated and even tear families apart. Great stuff.