• Coraline

    by  • February 9, 2009 • Movie Reviews and Features, Writing

    Written for the screen and directed by: Henry Selick
    Starring: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Keith David, John Hodgman, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Robert Bailey Jr., Ian McShane
    Rated: PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor.
    Parental Notes: This is essentially a horror movie for kids. Know your child’s limitations, there are some seriously creepy themes and images in the film that may be too intense for younger children.

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    The first glimpse we get of the Other Parents in “Coraline” is enough to tell any clever child that something is a little off: they have shiny black buttons where their eyes should be. Sure, they’re sweet and loving to the titular heroine, but there’s something a bit creepy about the buttons. As we learn before all is said and done, there’s a lot more to fear about them than just their eyes. This is not a film for the faint of heart, of any age.
    Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is a clever, active little girl with overworked, overstressed parents (voiced by John Hodgman and Teri Hatcher). They don’t have time for her because of an impending work deadline, so they encourage her to explore the building and stay out of their way. The building and its inhabitants are all brought to life in gorgeous stop-motion using hand-crafted sets and puppets and an unusual artistic flair that perfectly suits the odd story.
    Upstairs, Coraline finds an eccentric Russian named Mr. Bobinski (voiced by Ian McShane) who claims to be working on a mouse circus. Downstairs, there are a pair of retired entertainers, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible (voiced by Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French), who read tea leaves, keep lots of small dogs, and argue in the comfortable way of those who have known each other most of their lives. She also meets Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.), the grandson of the woman who owns the house, and his half-wild pet cat, Cat (Keith David). Nearly all of them tell her things that should warn her to be careful, but what sort of movie would we have if she heeded their words?
    Eventually Coraline discovers a small door in their sitting room which has been locked and wallpapered over. She persuades her mother to open it for her, only to find that it opens onto brick — during the day, at least. At night, it opens onto a strange tunnel. She goes through it, and finds a parallel version of her apartment building, populated by her Other Mother and Other Father, as well as an Other Mr. Bobinski and Other Misses Spink and Forcible. All of them have button eyes, and all of them adore her. Her Other Mother cooks extravagant and tasty food for her, the Other neighbors entertain her, and everything seems wonderful in the Other apartment. But of course, it isn’t, and Coraline learns this all too quickly.
    The second half of the film, in which Coraline must find her real parents and free the souls of children the Other Mother has trapped and killed in the past, was scary enough to send several children at my screening diving under their parents’ arms with wails of terror. The story is more frightening than the actual images used to tell it — which means that the fact your child can handle Harry Potter doesn’t make “Coraline” safe territory. Director Henry Selick (“James and the Giant Peach,” “Monkeybone”) has said that “Coraline” is for brave children of any age, and he is not kidding.
    Purist fans of the book will be horrified at some of the changes — Wybie is an entirely new character. Coraline’s raincoat is the wrong color, as are her hair and eyes. And so on. But, as someone said, adapting a book for the screen is like taking a car apart to build a motorcycle. You can use a lot of the same parts, but not everything fits, and the final result is often nothing like what you started with. The engine at the heart of “Coraline” survived the transition, and that was enough for this fan of the book.

    About

    Ealasaid is a technical writer, freelance movie reviewer, bookbinder, and geek-of-many-trades based in Portland, OR.