For many fans of movies one of the first types that usually catch our attention is animation. We used to call this segment of the art form cartoons but considering the current state of the art techniques that commonly employed this seems to be a gross under estimation. It seems like every year one of top studios reinvents animation with spectacular results. The old fashion hand drawings have for the most part given way to the technological marvels made possible by computers. While this has naturally altered the look and feel of the resulting films it most important contribution has been in sparking a renaissance in animated cinema. There is even a best animated feature category at the Academy awards and some of the best all round films in the last few years have been animated. One film that is an excellent example of blending old and new techniques is ‘Coraline’. This flight of fantast with a gentle edge of horror brings back one of the oldest animation methods in film; stop action. The use on movable figures and miniature sets has been around for ages with special effects masters like Ray Harryhausen elevating it to an art form before being over shadowed by ultra realistic computer modeling. One major side effect of this renewed interest in animation is the way film makers are free to let their imaginations soar without being overly concerned with the mundane matters of reality. If it wasn’t for such freedom of expression ‘Coraline’ could not have been made and that would be most regrettable. Many films boast that they are family movies but this one truly delivers a large helping of entertainment for both the kids and grownups. This film is simply delightful and a great way to unwind and forget about your problems for just a little while.
The film was written and directed by Henry Selick based on the acclaimed novel by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman has a background in graphic novels and several forms of fantasy including the live action movie ‘Stardust’. Selick has been building on his experience with fantasy presented in a format similar to this with ‘Monkeybone’, ‘James and the Giant Peach’ and most notably ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’. This eclectic group of films all has something in common; they all depict a universe populated by strange, dark characters. While there is nothing explicitly frightening here some of the themes may be considered too much for the youngest members of your family. Personally I think that today’s children can take this movie in stride. Still, perhaps it’s a good idea to watch this one with your kids. Now that animation has reached new heights of popularity such projects can easily attract ‘A’ list stars. Typically the money for voice over work is good and they don’t have to worry about getting to the set early for hair, make-up and wardrobe. This is not to say that the performers are any less dedicated to these projects; many seem to have a real blast doing them.
Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is not your typical child in a fantasy story. She is sullen, unpleasant and prone to be argumentative. Her life may not have been ideal but Coraline had managed to carve out a little routine and relative comfort. This is greatly disrupted when her parents (voiced by John Hodgman and Teri Hatcher) relocate the family to a dank house divided into three apartments. In the other two units her neighbors are Miss Spink (Jennifer Saunders) and her roommate Miss Forcible (Voiced by Dawn French) with Russian acrobat Mr. Bobinsky (voiced by Ian McShane). The situation does seem to improve when the girl befriends the grandson of the building’s owner, Wyborne (Robert Bailey Jr.). While exploring her new environment Coraline discovers a strange passage way that leads to an alternate universe populated by doubles of her parents in this universe. Notably different are their button eyes and outwardly sunny dispositions. The new parents introduce themselves as ‘Other Mother’ and ‘Other Father’. Several neighbors are also replicated in this bizarre place. Coraline return to the ‘Other World’ each night but always awakens in the old universe. At one point she meets a cat that can speak (voiced by Keith David) who inform her that the ‘Other’ Parents’ have something in mind for the little girl; she can stay in ‘Other World’ but the price is sewing buttons over her eyes. A potentially jump moment occurs when Coraline meets the spirits of children who lost their eyes and souls to ‘Other Mother’
Visually and stylistically this movie is amazing. The elongated forms of the characters are reminiscent of ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ as well as the use of oddly distorted geometric shapes to foster a disconcerting, off balanced mood. This is just like a spooky story we loved to hear as kids, especially on a stormy afternoon. The disc includes both 2-D and 3-D Version of the film and a feature commentary with Director Henry Selick and Composer Bruno Coulais