coralineposterstarring Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, and Keith David
written by Neil Gaiman and Henry Selick & directed by Henry Selick
Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor.

Young Coraline Jones (Fanning) is most displeased. She has just left her friends behind her and moved into a creepy old house that is populated by weird and eccentric residents. To make matters worse, there is nothing to do and her parents have no time to pay attention to her. Stuck inside the house on a rainy day, Coraline stumbles upon a small door in the wall that has been papered over. Soon, she discovers that it leads to a mirror world that is very much like her own, but far better. In this place, her “other” parents pay attention to her and everything seems designed for her entertainment and enjoyment. It is, literally, a world built just for her. All too soon, however, she discovers that this parallel place really is too good to be true, and the beautiful dream turns into a horrifying nightmare that threatens to trap her forever.

Coraline is a glorious and all-too-rare example of what is possible when an animator knows that there are literally no constraints whatsoever on his imagination, and then harnesses that limitless power in order to tell a story. In this case, the combined talents of Neil Gaiman as a storyteller and inventor of fantastical worlds, and Henry Selick as a stop-motion artist of considerable creativity and skill, have brought a dark but enchanting masterpiece to the screen.

There will no doubt be some confusion among audience members who remain convinced that animation is aimed specifically at small children. Allow me to do my small part in dispelling that preconception. Coraline is a strong PG; a horror story for children of all ages (well, older than, say, eight or nine, though I should acknowledge that I am not a parent and all children are different). An atmosphere of creepiness pervades almost every moment, beginning with the unsettling opening sequence of a doll being methodically dismembered and reconstructed, which actually made my skin crawl. The word “freaky” came to mind more than once as I watched. This is an Alice in Wonderland story by way of Pan’s Labyrinth instead of Walt Disney, where the danger is every bit as real as the delight.

It would be a shame to spoil the visual surprises that wait behind every door and around every corner in the movie by talking about them too much. I will say, however, that I haven’t the first notion of how most of what I saw was accomplished, nor did I spend a lot of time wondering about the process (or even aware that a “process” was at work). The special effects (if I even ought to call them that) are superb to the degree that they are invisible rather than flamboyantly demanding admiration and comment. (“Look at me! I was designed to make your eyes pop and your jaw drop!”)

Likewise, the voice acting, although the cast includes a number of well-known performers, does not draw undue attention to itself. The actors’ voices are on loan to the characters whose mouths they speak through, rather than the other way around. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was aware of who was voicing whom, but this information was not something I was really conscious of until it appeared in the credits. Teri Hatcher is particularly noteworthy as the voice of both Mother and Other Mother, a subtle but important difference which she handles exceedingly well.

I particularly enjoyed the ways in which the story borrowed recognizably from different genres and stories while remaining unpredictable. I have already mentioned Alice in Wonderland: Coraline travels to the parallel world by following a rodent through a hole, and is guided on the other side by a mysterious cat and menaced by an evil matriarch. She is given the chance to win her freedom by completing a difficult task; a model found in countless fairy tales. There are even plot elements drawn straight from the horror genre, like the constant foreshadowing of danger that Coraline ignores until it is almost too late.

I definitely should not leave off without some mention of the music in Coraline, which was composed by Bruno Coulais and features The Children’s Choir of Nice. It is quite unlike any soundtrack I’ve ever heard, and it fits the weird wonder of this movie perfectly. I can’t get enough. All that to say: Coraline is a genuine treat and I hope to catch it again (this time in 3D) before it leaves the theater.

~ by Jared on February 6, 2009.

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