“Be careful what you wish for.”
Director: Henry Selick
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgeman
Writers: Henry Selick (screenplay), Neil Gaiman (book)
What kid didn’t dream of a more exciting life for themselves? The world can too often feel painfully mundane. But when you are given the perfection you desire what would you be willing to sacrifice to maintain your fantasy?
It’s a familiar premise, but you can be sure Henry Selick will do something amazing with it. Would you expect any less from the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas? From what I have read Selick had been working with Wes Anderson on his stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox, but had to part ways when the studio folded. Anderson went elsewhere to continue his work on Mr. Fox, but Henry Selick went to a new studio called Laika and stumbled upon a Neil Gaiman book called Coraline…
Coraline is about Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning), a dissaffected (and rather bratty) little girl whose parents (Teri Hatcher, John Hodgeman) have taken her away from her friends to settle in a small little town amongst some very eccentric neighbours. Ignored by her folks Coraline explores the enigmatic old house at length before finding a tiny door to another world. This world is exactly like the real one, only everything is exciting and full of wonder. Here lives the “Other Mother” and “Other Father” who seem to make every wish fulfilled for Coraline and never once ignore her. So what if they have buttons for eyes? This place is rad, right? Coraline thinks so at first, but as the history and motivations of this fantastic world creep into sharp focus Coraline finds herself in a more terrifying adventure than she ever imagined.
Anyone who has ever seen a movie before will know that everything is not as it seems, but Selick winds this twisted story with such a dark poetry that I lost any hesitation for the familiarity of the plot and became wholely obsessed with this intricate and magical world.
While I really don’t need to say this I also really do. The visuals are stunning. This is stop-motion animation at it’s very best. Every small facet of this unique world has it’s own history and purpose. Many of the characters have highly hyperbolized features fitting well with the personalities they belong to. Also, Selick employs a lot of hand-woven material for the characters clothing which added a refreshing visual layer to the film. See this film in 3D if you can. Far from gimmicky it allows the beautiful sets their different layers and you feel like you’ve walked in to a wondrous and frightening diorama.
Fortunately Selick was working with Neil Gaiman for his source material and the richness of the story matches the visual flair. Like many great fantasies, this one is otherworldly strange and beautiful, but the emotions are deep, flawed and very human. Some critics have noted that Coraline herself is quite a horrible little child at times, but this is a movie about a realistic character and I applaud Mr. Selick for creating a character as flawed and real as her. Although a familiar premise this film has hidden depths and some plot turns I did not anticipate. This, if nothing else is a fully realized vision. However what lacked towards the end was the shedding of Coraline‘s careful pace, pushing instead for a more action packed and video-gamey type final battle that insisting of reincorporating every detail of the intricate world in the terrifying final encounter with the other mother. Honestly, I wouldn’t bring a kid to see this movie (unless they’re wicked cool).
Dakota Fanning gives a very serviceable performance as Coraline Jones and Teri Hatcher is good as her mother, but really shines as the nicing-you-to-death “Other Mother”. Ian McShane (Deadwood)and Keith David’s (Requiem For A Dream) powerful and intrigueing cadences also lend interesting dimensions to the ensemble. But oh man. John Hodgeman (Flight Of The Conchords, “PC” in the Mac ads) is amazing. Perhaps this is just a personal love for this man’s voice or this man in general, but I could listen to this man coo drafting manuals for the entirety of a paint-drying seminar and never get bored. He rules.
The very ending for Henry Selick’s Coraline may also feel a bit familiar but has a genuine warmth, a final scene Selick more than deserved for bringing us another beautiful nightmare.
Great Moment: The song John Hodgeman’s character sings to Coraline! “This piano plays me!” And the song itself is sung my John Linnel from They Might Be Giants!