***** (out of 5)
February 6, 2009
Dakota Fanning as CORALINE JONES
Teri Hatcher as MOTHER
Jennifer Saunders as MISS SPINK
Dawn French as MISS FORCIBLE
Keith David as CAT
John Hodgman as FATHER
Robert Bailey Jr. as WYBIE LOVAT
Ian McShane as MR. BOBINSKY
Studio: Focus Features
Directed by: Henry Selick
BY KEVIN CARR
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There’s something magical for dark children’s movies at the beginning of February. While the rest of the cinemas are filled with rather silly (if not successful and funny) movies like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” we are treated to at least one inspiring, fantastic and breathtaking movie right before Valentine’s Day.
Last year, “The Spiderwick Chronicles” impressed me in February, becoming the first great movie of 2008. Similarly, this year, the stop-motion masterpiece “Coraline” has become the film to beat for all the other releases this year.
Based on a short novel by Neil Gaiman, the author of the source material that gave us “Beowulf” and “Stardust,” “Coraline” is a horror fantasy about a young girl who wishes her life were different. She’s bored with her family, and she’s bored with where she lives. After moving into an old house, Coraline is given a mysterious doll that looks amazingly like her. Later, she discovers a door in one of the house’s rooms, covered with wallpaper.
Coraline finds a way to open the door, and late at night she steps inside. The door takes her to another world, which seems happier, brighter and better than the one she lives in. There, she meets her “Other Mother,” who is perfect in every way, except she has buttons for eyes. As Coraline finds more to love about this world, we soon discover that there is something sinister behind the happiness.
“Coraline” is filmed with the same stop-motion technique as director Henry Selick’s other masterpiece, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Without Tim Burton attached to “Coraline,” Selick proves that he can provide an innovative, brilliant cinematic experience himself. In recent years, stop-motion has gone the way of CGI, and it’s a dying art form that Selick is hopefully bringing back.
The film was also shot in stereoscopic 3D, and it’s available in digital 3D in its release. Unlike a gimmick film, the 3D simply adds to the experience. There are only a few blatant 3D effects, primarily in the opening sequence. And while these are cool, the 3D used in this film has become visionary because it doesn’t distract but rather enhances your movie watching. Catch this film in 3D if you can, but it would still be awesome in traditional projection.
While often characterized as a kid’s movie, “Coraline” bridges the gap between a children’s film and a grown-up movie. It might be a bit scary for the youngest viewers, but the story of a girl who is bored with her life is accessible to almost everyone.
“Coraline” literally takes viewers to another world with a sinister twist that still manages to be a bit warm and friendly. Even when Coraline is dabbling in her new world and fascinated by its wonders, there’s a sense of dread that is given a tremendous payoff later in the film.
The only problem I had with this film was that a few times the smoothness of the animation broke down. While most of the movement flows perfectly, there are a few moments where things get a little jumpy, which is an artifact of the stop-motion process.
But if that’s the only problem with this movie, I can live with it. I never expect a film to be as close to perfect as “Coraline” is this early in the year. It was probably the most refreshing thing I’ve seen in months and easily the first great film of 2009.