Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Movie – Coraline (2008)

Coraline is a stop-motion animated movie based on the Neil Gaiman book.  The film is directed by Henry Selick, who also directed The Nightmare Before Christmas.  Coraline received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film, losing to Pixar’s Up.  Like my previous movie review – MirrorMask – Coraline deals with a girl entering another realm where she is in great danger.  While this film was rated PG, and is animated, please do not think it is for children only.  Anyone who has seen Grave of the Fireflies (1988) can tell you that animated does not necessarily mean “for kids”.  In fact, Coraline is the kind of movie that will probably give the youngest viewers nightmares.  As for older children and adults, the film has an engaging lead character and a story with many thriller elements to it.  There’s even a bit of horror mixed in.  The result is a very good movie that should not be ignored by adults.

The film opens with a scene of a doll being completely taken apart, re-designed, re-stuffed, and then sewn up again.  Hmm, I wonder if this will be important later.  The character of Coraline (voice of Dakota Fanning) moves into a new apartment house with her mother (voice of Teri Hatcher) and father (voice of John Hodgman).  There are two elderly women living in the basement apartment, Miss April Spink (voice of Jennifer Saunders) and Miss Miriam Forcible (voice of Dawn French).  In the attic apartment is a strange Russian man named Mr. Bobinsky (voice of Ian McShane).

Coraline starts exploring the outdoors and runs into a boy her own age.  His name is Wybie (voice of Robert Bailey, Jr.) and his grandmother owns the apartment house.  He has a cat with him that he says is wild and does not belong to anyone.  He tells Coraline that it is strange that his grandmother rented to her family because she doesn’t like having children in the house.  She doesn’t think it is safe for them.  We find out later that the grandmother’s sister disappeared from the house when both were girls.  The grandmother believes she “was taken”.

A little later Wybie brings over a doll he says he found at his grandmother’s.  He gives it to Coraline.  It is the doll we saw being made at the opening of the film.  It looks almost exactly like Coraline, except it has buttons for eyes.  Coraline puts it in her bedroom and that night she has a strange dream – or is it a dream?  In this “dream” she wakes up and follows a mouse to a small door in the apartment.  Coraline had opened it earlier and found only brick on the other side, but now when she opens it she finds a tunnel.  She follows the tunnel and comes out in an exact replica of her new home, right down to an Other Mother and Other Father who greet her.

These two characters look and sound just like her real parents, except they both have buttons for eyes.  In the real world both of Coraline’s parents have been busy with the move, their new jobs, etc., and she has been feeling neglected.  This Other Mother and Father treat her wonderfully.  They spend all their time doing things with her.  They feed her wonderful food.  They put her to bed in her other bedroom and when she wakes up she is back in her real room.  Did all this really happen, or was it a dream?

Coraline visits the other tenants and finds that Mr. Bobinsky is trying to train mice to perform for others and that the two elderly women were burlesque stars when they were young.  That night Coraline leaves some cheese out and the mice return.  She follows them through the door again and this time she meets the Other Wybie, who can’t speak.  They visit the other tenants and are entertained by the Other Mr. Bobinsky’s dancing mice.  Coraline has a wonderful time again. 

She returns to the real world, but has an argument with her mother and goes back to the Other world again, where things are much better.  She meets the feral cat, but it is not an “Other” version; it is the one from her world.  It can speak in this world (voice of Keith David) and it warns her about her Other Mother.  Coraline is entertained this time by the elderly women, so she ignores the cat.

Coraline is ready to stay, so when the Other Mother suggests it, Coraline is happy – until she learns that in order to make it permanent the Other Mother has to sew buttons in place of her eyes.  Coraline wants nothing to do with that and goes to bed.  When she wakes up she is still in the Other World, though.  She tries to go back through the little door, but she finds it locked.  With the help of the cat, who she now believes, she tries to run away, but quickly finds that this world fades away the further she gets from the house.  She has to return.

Coraline demands that the Other Mother let her go home, and this angers the “woman”.  She reveals her true self, which is a giant spider, and she traps Coraline.  While trapped Coraline meets ghosts of three children.  They had their eyes (a metaphor for their souls) taken by the Other Mother and they have been trapped ever since.  If Coraline can find their eyes/souls then they can finally be free.  She realizes that one of them is the grandmother’s sister who disappeared.  Even if Coraline can escape from her trap, find the children’s souls, and somehow get back to her real world, the Other Mother has also trapped Coraline’s real parents.  She is not going to give up without a fight.  There is still quite a bit more movie left.

From this description, you can probably see why I said it would likely give little children nightmares.  It’s reasonably scary even for adults.  If I had seen this at the age of eight I probably would have lain awake nights worried about a little door opening and an Other Mother, who’s really a giant spider, coming to steal me away from my family.

I mentioned at the top that this movie is a little similar to MirrorMask.  It also has elements of Alice in Wonderland, with the “magic” portal and the cat that appears and disappears. 

By the way, if you read the book, but have not seen the movie, you may be wondering about this Wybie character.  You’re not forgetting anything; he was not in the book.  The filmmakers added him to give someone for Coraline to be friends with and to talk to, rather than talking to herself like she does in the book.

The animation in the film is quite well done.  It is actually the longest stop motion film made so far with a running time of one hour and forty minutes.  There are many small details that you can pick up on if you give it multiple viewings.  There are several hints about the Other Mother’s true nature in certain images that are used, and you find that you can now tell that it is the Other Mother who is re-making the doll at the opening of the film.  I’d also like to mention that the performing mice scene is quite entertaining.

Please don’t bypass this film because you think it is only for kids.  I suggest you give it a try and see what it is all about.  I probably wouldn’t show it to children under 10, but that is just me.  For everyone else, this film is highly recommended.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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  1. For some reason, I didn't really like this flick. I don't know what it was but the tone just seemed a little too dark and goofy for me and just bored me to death. However, the animation was pretty cool to look at. Good review Chip.

  2. I remember taking my girls to this--one was 10 and the other 6. They both enjoyed it, but yes, the 6-year-old was pretty scared a number of times.

    As for me, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

  3. I agree that this is not a film for young children. The Other Mother is just too creepy.

  4. Nice review! I really admire Henry Selick's style. I wish he'd do more, but then again I realize stop motion takes a great deal of time and patience.

    I also read the book, and felt that the changes were relatively minimal.

    It's probably not for everyone, but I really enjoyed it, and my kids dug it as well.

  5. I always wanted to see this one, but never got the chance. I love animation with a little bit of eerie vibe to it and this seems just like that. Nice review!

  6. @Dan O. - I can see how this film would not be for everyone. Thanks for commenting.

    @SJHoneywell - Thanks for sharing, both your experience and your daughters. It's always a little tough for me to judge how kids might respond to something so I fall back on how I think I might have reacted when I was a child. Of course, kids today generally tend to be exposed to more violence/scares at a younger age than when I was growing up, so my experiences may not be in line with today's kids.

    @KimWilson - Thanks for sharing. I had a co-worker who took her young boys to see it, but I can't remember what she told me about their reactions to it.

    @Barry P. - Thanks for sharing about the book. I have not read it, so I was curious.

    @Sati. - Thanks. I had a co-worker (smae as in comment above) who kept recommending the film to me because she felt it was something I would like. I had figured I would see it someday, but never happened to get around to it. I finally saw it about 6-8 months ago and did like it. I went out and bought the BD afterwards. If you get a chance to see it, please let me know what you thought.

  7. I thought I was going to love this film, as I was into Nightmare Before Christmas and other sorts of gothic animated films. However, for some reason this film just didn't do it for me. I actually fell asleep the first time I tried to watch it.

  8. @3guys1movie - Thanks for sharing your opinion of the film. Since you say "first time" you must have watched it again at some point, right?