Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Coraline (USA, 2009)

"You probably think this world is a dream come true... but you're wrong."

Coraline (the voice Dakota Fanning, from Man on Fire [2004 / trailer]), a petulant and bored little girl, has left her beloved hometown and friends and moved with her parents to a large old house, which has been divided up into three apartments, in the middle of nowhere. Her parents live for their computers and have little time for her, and the other residents of the house — the aged burlesque artists Miss April Spink (Jennifer Saunders) and Miss Miriam Forcible (Dawn French) and the former vaudeville performer Sergei Alexander Bobinsky (Ian McShane) — are all both too old and too odd to be friends. Coraline doesn't find the only other kid around, Wyborne 'Wybie' Lovat (Robert Bailey Jr.), the grandson of the house owner, to be all that much better. Wybie gives Coraline a doll that he found at his grandma's that looks just like her and has buttons for eyes. Soon thereafter, Coraline finds a bricked-up passageway that opens at night to take her to a parallel world in which everyone has button eyes, her parents are loving and caring, and everything is magical. The Other Mother (Teri Hatcher of Tango & Cash [1989 / trailer] and Fever [1999 / trailer], who also does the voice of the Real Mother) invites Coraline to stay, on the condition that she replace her eyes with buttons. ("You know, you could stay forever, if you want to. There's one tiny thing we have to do first...") When Coraline refuses, she quickly learns that dreams can be nightmares in disguise as the Other Mother tries to force her to remain. Can Coraline escape, save her real parents and help release the trapped souls of the children stolen before her?
Henry Selick, the man behind two other contemporary stop-motion masterpieces, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993 / trailer) and James and the Giant Peach (1996 / trailer), as well as the interesting but less-than-successful partially-live-action oddity Monkeybone (2001 / trailer), has done it again: He has created yet another jaw-dropping stop-motion cinematic wonder, a visual delight made less for children than for the child still found within the adult. Based on a fantasy novella by Neil Gaiman, who also wrote the interesting live-action "magic other world" films MirrorMask (2005 / trailer) and Stardust (2007 / trailer), the basic story of Coraline is a beautifully nightmarish fourth or fifth cousin to Alice in Wonderland / Through the Looking Glass, complete with (mangy) talking cat (voiced by Keith David of The Thing [1982 / trailer], The Quick & The Dead [1995 / trailer], Pitch Black [2000 / trailer] and the abysmal 29 Palms [2002]). The longest stop-motion film yet made, Coraline is also the first stop-motion feature to be filmed in 3-D — but like the truly best of films, it need not be seen in this currently popular gimmick to be enjoyed. In 3-D or 2-D, Coraline is one of those rare films that prove that "Yes, Virginia, there is still creativity in Hollywood."
Though marketed as a children's film, Coraline is pretty strong stuff for little kids — and, perhaps, for some adults. Within minutes, for all its color and all the fun and innocence the technique itself seems to promise, the film takes on a creepy, disturbing tone that keeps the viewers at the edge of their seats until the finale. (Indeed, the credit sequence of the doll being re-sewn is downright unsettling and highly disturbing.) Even the "happy" parts — the show interludes, for example — have an oddly perverse or threatening feel to them; but then, as is shown later in the film, they do indeed hide dangers. For whatever reason — and much to the benefit of the movie — Selick seriously reduces the amount of saccharine musical interludes that are normally found in this type of film (i.e., children's films, and especially animated children's films) normally have. And since Selick never goes to the Michael-Bay-style excesses that, for example, ruin that other less magical but scary kiddy computer-animated film Monster House (2006 / trailer), Coraline also maintains a much finer, sincere and consistent unsettling tone.
But for all the chills and dread, Coraline also remains a simply beautiful piece of filmmaking. Just like there is no wrong brushstroke found in the best masterpieces (be it Rembrandt's Mona Lisa, Gericault's Raft of Medusa, Dix's Portrait of Sylvia Von Harden or Picasso's Guernica), there seems nothing misplaced or wrong in Coraline. Coraline is beyond doubt a masterpiece of its kind, a tour de force that can be enjoyed as such or simply enjoyed as a truly fine film. Do yourself a favor and watch it today! You won’t be disappointed — but you might have a nightmare or two tonight.

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