Coraline (2009) Movie Review


I saw this movie several years ago, and then I found out that the book it was based on was written by Comic Book Writer (Sandman) and dark storyteller Neil Gaiman, who decided 1 day he wanted to write a Children’s novel.  Through curiosity, I read the book, which…had an interesting dilemma.  The language was very clear and it was a very easy read.  But at the same time, Neil Gaiman managed to write a story that was terrifying.  So you have a book that was too simple to challenge adults in the literary department, while at the same time it was far too scary for its intended demographic.  Awesome.  Today I re-watched the film, having read the book (Whether or not it was intended for me…keep in mind, I might refer to it for myself as a creative), and now we can talk about it while referring to its source material.  So.  Coraline…not Caroline.

Set in the outskirts of Ashland, Oregon.  Our story centres around an 11 year old girl from  Michigan named Coraline, who has just moved into a new apartment in The Pink Palace Apartments, a 150 year old Mansion that was renovated into different homes.  Along with Coraline and her parents, residents include retired burlesque dancers named Miss Spink and Miss Forcible (and their many Scottish Terrier dogs), and an eccentric Russian Acrobat named Mr Bobinsky (known as Mr Bobo in the book) who runs a mouse circus.  Coraline is bored out of her mind, but she takes the time to explore her new environment – which leads her meeting a boy named Wybourne (Whose first impressions are instantly shot down), a Black cat with a secret, finding a well, and finding a secret door that was wallpapered over.  After asking her mother to open it, they find that the door has been bricked up.  However, that night, a mouse appears and scurries downstairs.  Coraline follows it, leading her to the little door, which is no longer bricked up and has become a little tunnel.  She goes through the tunnel to find a duplicate of her new home…only it was different.  The colours were brighter, the pictures happier, and her parents were there, playing music and making amazing meals in the middle of the night…or rather, these are her “other” parents.  Parents from a parallel universe with buttons instead of eyes (like the doll Wybourne reveals to Coraline which looks like…Coraline).  The world seems perfect in this universe, as her parents and the surrounding world seem to give her everything she ever wanted.  But is it all too good to be true?

Now to discuss the bricks in the wall:

The Voice Acting is awesome, with some wonderful choices and even some star quality that suits it down to the ground.  Miss Spink and Miss Forcible are voiced by Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders (very well known comedy duo in the UK), Teri Hatcher (Susan Mayer from Desperate Housewives) voices Mel Jones, Coraline’s mother, as well as her “other mother”, Humorist John Hodgman voices both Charlie, Coraline’s Dad and her other Dad.  Ian McShane (Al Swearengen in Deadwood, Ray the community leader in that Season 6 episode of Game Of Thrones) voices Mr Bobinski, Keith David (“Childs” in John Carpenter’s The Thing & “The Shadow Man” in The Princess And The Frog) voices the black cat, and a 15 year old Dakota Fanning voices Coraline.  Some performances, you couldn’t tell it was the voice actors because they were very much in character – and in the process, you see their talent shine through as performers.

The Characters are brilliant, and some of them are even better in the movie than they are in the book.  Especially Coraline’s parents, Mel and Charlie.  In the book, we’re not given much of a reason as to why Coraline’s parents seem to neglect her.  But in the film we’re given a reason.  They’ve just moved into a new house, which is 1 of the 2 most stressful things a person can experience in everyday life.  The other is marriage.  On top of this, they both work at home, and have a closing deadline to meet, a gardening catalog, where Charlie writes the articles and Mel edits them.  They meet their deadline halfway into the film, and this is when they seem to lighten up and start to come around as parents, even when Coraline doesn’t notice.  For the first half of the film, they’re stressed and exhausted, so they can’t give everything their daughter wants right away.  They do the most they can, and telling their daughter to explore their new home is at least a decent way to give her something to do.  The neighbours are delightfully mad, as are the other parents, and much like a protagonist should, Coraline grows as a person.

The Story in the film is a little different to the book – and in its own way, that’s grand.  The inclusion of the character Wybourne Lovat (the grandson of the landlady) was a good idea from a creative standpoint and makes the film more universal.  In the book, Coraline talks to herself, which is fine in a Japanese anime, manga and a novel, but perhaps not a family film.  So, include a boy who is the same age as Coraline for her to interact with.  Good choice.  Also the emphasis on doll eyes is both creepy and oddly symbolic.  Many would compare this film/story to Alice In Wonderland, and it definitely falls into that archetype.  But they’re not the same story.  Some could also argue that there are a lot of symbolic aspects of sin, slavery, thievery and selfishness mixed in.  Coraline is presented with scenarios that are too good to be true, only to be told “If you want more, you’ll have to do this”, which then puts her at a crossroads – These things are enjoyable and wonderful, but can she really give up what she has for it?  Even during the trying time that her ‘has’ is going through?

The Music was composed by Bruno Coulais, who has been nicknamed “The French Danny Elfman”, due to his slightly similar but evidently different melodies.  A number of the tunes include light singing from children’s choirs (in french), and other songs such as the song that French and Saunders do in their play (in the other world) are great in the film, but they might not be pleasant to listen to on a train.  The soundtrack in general is excellent, and really captures the essence of both childhood and dark adventure.

The Art Style…oh the art style!  The film’s director, Henry Selick, might ring a bell to some.  While The Nightmare Before Christmas has Tim Burton’s name attached to it, he was the producer.  Henry Selick made that film a reality as director, due to this experience in puppets and stop motion animation.  His other work includes the stop motion version of James and The Giant Peach in 1996 (also produced by Burton) and the quirky visual effects in Wes Anderon’s The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.  So you know you’re in for on a treat on a visual level, and he doesn’t disappoint here.  This film also has a distinction, because it’s the first stop-motion animated movie to be shot for 3D cinemas and Blu-Rays.  I saw it on 3D Blu-Ray, and it looks great!  I could look at this movie all day and get ideas from it.

The Animation is amazing in this 1.  Some could argue about a slight choppiness here and there, but you can say that about most Japanese anime.  Everything flows wonderfully, and the fact that it’s done with stop-motion puppets makes it all the more amazing, as there is constantly something going on, even in the little things.

Would I recommend Coraline?  Absolutely!  I really liked the film the first time I watched it, and the second viewing, oddly enough, is even better!  Yes, I might know the story, but I love looking at this film and seeing it play out.  Are there plot-holes?  Yes a few.  But it’s still a very tight, solid and gripping experience.  Even the slower moments catch your attention.

Voice Acting: ****3/4

Characters: ****3/4

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****3/4

Art Style: *****

Animation: *****

Overall: ****3/4

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