A wonderful little animated feature from the Neil Gaiman graphic novel, Coraline marks director Henry Selick’s return to feature-length animation following a decade-plus absence.
The director – whose work has always been highly original and instantly recognizable – has never really gotten his due; Tim Burton seems to have absorbed much of the credit for Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, while his excellent adaptation of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach never really received the following it should have.
But Coraline – which is just as good as the aforementioned films – should change this. Like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline is a kids’ film on the surface, nightmare fodder underneath. Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) moves with her distant parents to a remote house in a wooded area where it’s always cloudy or raining.
Mom and Dad both work for a garden catalogue, and have little time for their daughter or sympathy for her boredom. Coraline meets oddball Wybie, whose grandmother owns the house, his feral cat, and her strange neighbors, a Russian acrobat who trains mice and two elderly former actresses.
But she yearns for more. And so, one night, she follows a hopping mouse down the rabbit hole, or in this case, the mysterious, painted-over mini-door hidden in the living room.
On the other side she finds a parallel universe where everyone has buttons for eyes. They’re nicer, too, including her ‘other mother’, who gives Coraline whatever she desires, and her neighbors, who put on spectacular shows. But, of course, everything is not as it seems.
Gaiman’s novel draws its inspiration from classic fantasy tales (Alice in Wonderland, particularly) and Selick’s screenplay does it justice. But Selick’s animation makes the film.
Vivid, inventive, and wildly imaginative, it’s an often beautiful merger between the director’s classic stop-motion animation and a more fluid computer-generated style.
My favorite sequence: Coraline and a feline friend walk to the edge of the ‘other’ world, and then, just like Daffy Duck, right off of it and into a blank screen.
Most kids’ films play it safe these days, but it’s refreshing to see something like Coraline, offbeat and peculiar and downright creepy at times. The plot is nothing that Disney hasn’t touched upon, but the style and details transcend conventional bounds.
It’s the kind of movie you see at a young age and never forget. Note: the above review refers to the 2-D version of the film. Also note: Coraline is screening in a Czech-dubbed version on most Prague screens, but you can catch it in English (with Czech subtitles) at Village Cinemas Anděl.