Oh goodness, Henry Selick and Neil Gaiman teaming up: what a perfect pairing. Based on Gaiman’s young adult novel, Coraline is a stunningly beautiful stop-motion film focusing on Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning), a curious pre-teen who has recently moved to an odd pink apartment complex with her gardener/writer parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman). Dismayed by their workaholic tendencies, she explores the dismal surrounding area, which includes a dead garden, meeting the weird kid next door Wybie (Robert Bailey, Jr) and the acrobat Bobinsky (Ian McShane) upstairs who trains a mouse circus. She discovers a secret knee-high door, presumably existing as a link to the unoccupied apartment connected to theirs, and convinces her mom to give her the key, only to find it opens to a brick wall. Following this incident, Coraline begins dreaming of a perfect world beyond the door, an ideal version of her own life.
It’s just like her apartment, but more magical, and eventually turns out to not be a dream. Her parents are just like her parents, but doting and perpetually in good moods. Wybie’s there but unable to speak and therefore less annoying, and Bobinsky is the ring leader of an exciting circus. Her downstairs neighbors, the Misses Spink (Jennifer Saunders) and Forcible (Dawn French), relive their stage days by transforming into their younger selves and performing for Coraline and a host of yappy dogs. There’s even a huge fanciful garden in the shape of her face. Everything is pretty wonderful, until the Other Mother insists that Coraline sews buttons into her own eyes so she can match everyone else there. She refuses and escapes, only to find her real parents missing. In a desperate attempt to keep Coraline, the Other Mother kidnapped them. Now our heroine must fight to save her parents as well as the souls of the children Other Mother has stolen in the past, with the aid of Wybie and a mysterious omniscient cat (Keith David).
This movie is awesome all around. It’s a decent adaptation of the novel, even (I thought) improving the plot in some ways. It doesn’t seek to change too many things (often the downfall of a book-to-screen situation), only adding one new and minor character (Wybie) and slightly shifting some of the chronology. Anything else extra is an exciting visual additive such as the garden. I liked that they gave Coraline more of a personal struggle. In the book, she quickly realized that this world was ominous and it was more about saving her parents. In the film, she was completely taken in by the Other Mother’s playland and had to fight against the temptation to stay there. It made the story more dramatic. The main adaptation-related aspect that bugged me is the way the ghost children were done. I don’t want to be completely spoilerific here but let’s just say a certain segment that was really interesting in the book was just weird and irritating in the movie.
Visually, Coraline is perfect. I didn’t see it in 3-D because I actually kind of hate 3-D (it’s really uncomfortable for a person who wears regular vision-correcting glasses, and I don’t think it adds anything special to my viewing experience), but I’m sure it’s just as good. It’s the kind of movie during which I reveled in every detail. I was literally staring agape for the entire opening scene, completely beguiled by the imagery before me. I have long thought stop-motion to be one of the best forms of animation, and this film is probably the best example I’ve seen. The world Selick has created is intricate and imaginative but still believable. The character designs are over-the-top but relatable, and their movements are natural and precise. The care that went in to creating each piece of the set and figures is incredibly apparent, and I found myself constantly wondering how they achieved certain effects. It’s so much better knowing that each action was hand-crafted and not done by computer- it looks better and it feels better, too!
Overall this is a really fun, creative fantasy. The heroine has moxie and the soundtrack is swell. It’s darker than your average kid’s film, which I always like to see. Most exciting of all, there’s a musical with a score by Stephin Merritt! Eeeee! I wish I wasn’t out of the country in May.