Movies: Coraline

Posted on February 12, 2009

If you roam the streets of the East Village, you might not even think there’s a recession gripping the country. It was only the middle of the week,but the restaurants were filled, people walked around Union Square Park with steaming cups of Starbucks, and there was a nice-sized line in the theater to see Coraline, the new animated film written and directed by Henry Selick (not Tim Burton). My expectations were pretty high. And I came out pretty satisfied, though a few issues with the movie’s pacing and later, darker, imagery might kill it for some. But I do think this film will have a lasting effect on the way movies are made.

Like most good children’s stories, Coraline starts with a disaffected youth – Coraline Jones (voiced expressively by Dakota Fanning), who has just moved to an unfamiliar neighborhood. Her parents mostly ignore her, and the closest thing she has to a friend is Wybie, a neighborhood boy who skulks around in a welding mask. It isn’t long before she starts exploring her new apartment, and stumbles upon another version of our world – one in which everyone and everything she knows seems to be perfect – or is it?

The story unfolds through stylish, colorful, stop-motion animation that may remind you of The Nightmare Before Christmas. One gets the sense that each of the charming characters and creatures was molded to fit its personality, from Coraline’s long-necked, bookish father, to the generously proportioned Miss Forcible, an old lady who reads omens in tea-leaves when she isn’t serving taffy made before the turn of the century. But it’s the director’s use of 3D that truly sets this film apart. Instead of going for the cheap thrills (creatures and people erupting from the screen), Selick uses 3D in a more subtle manner, adding depth to each scene, pulling our eyes further into Coraline’s world so that after a few minutes, you’d be convinced you were watching a stage production or a pop-up storybook come to life. I’d go as far as to say it’s the best 3D film I’ve ever seen – and a perfect guideline of what all movies that make you put on those funky glasses should try to achieve.

And it’s clear that everyone had fun making this movie – when the inhabitants of the other world are showing off their charms to Coraline, there are few scenes where you won’t laugh, cringe (in a good way!), or gasp at some animated sleight of hand. Unfortunately, the narrative suffers in the face of all the eye-candy – the second act dragged on longer than it should, and it felt a lot longer than its 1 hour and 40 minutes. Since it’s being marketed as a children’s film, I might also add that it has its share of very unsettling (though rarely crude or violent) moments that gave me the heebie jeebies. I happen to like the heebie jeebies, and don’t believe in coddling kids, but if your little ones are prone to nightmares, consider yourself warned.

So, if you’re a Tim Burton or Neil Gaiman fan, seeing this is a no-brainer. If you’re not, you will still enjoy the raw creativity and imagination bubbling in each frame. And if you’re making 3D movies – let this one show you how it’s done.

» Filed Under Everything and Nothing, Movies, Writing

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