On Saturday, Feb. 14th, we caught an early matinee of Coraline, the animated movie based on the 'children's book' by Neil Gaiman. I add the quotes because the story is pretty creepy, and is really more of an 'adolescent's book,' dealing as it does with alienation and adult/child friction.
The movie has been considerably expanded from the original, which was in fact quite short, and we thought the expansions, which dealt mostly with the weird seductions of the Other world, were very well done for the most part.
Animation design was attractive and quite effective: the stop-motion is so smooth and beautifully rendered, I kept thinking that it was computer animation. The movie sets the new standard for that style. Coraline (voice by Dakota Fanning) is a quirky rather than cute girl. The notable asymmetry of her face emphasizes the character's generally wry take on the world. Other characters such as Wybie (Robert Bailey, Jr.), the Cat (Keith David), and the neighbors have aspects that render them nicely ambivalent until you see which side they actually come down on.
Coraline is the daughter of a pair of work-at-home parents who write and edit seed catalogs for a living. They have just moved to Oregon from Michigan to be nearer their client, and have found lodgings at the rundown "Pink Palace", an old American Gothic house that has been subdivided into apartments. Coraline's live pretty much "sucks" as she's dealing with displacement, Oregon's apparently incessant rain, the off-putting neighbors, and her mother's (Teri Hatcher) neglectful bitchiness which is in part due to pushing Dad (John Hodgman) to meet deadline and partly due to her recent neck injury. So, when Coraline goes through a mysterious door in the house that leads to the Other world, she is both mystified and intrigued. The bright Other land is dominated by her "Other Mother" who is an ideal housekeeper and plies the girl with food and gifts; her Other Father has seemingly endless time to be with her. Only one problem--all the people there have big, black buttons where their eyes should be--.
The story plays out with good proportions of both physical and spiritual peril. Coraline rises to the occasion, resolving the situation with competence and determination that make her a good role model. I liked the fact that she has the sense to "gear up" when going to the rescue, something that a lot of adult characters in many movies could learn by--.
Henry Selick's screenplay is faithful to Gaiman's story, with the considerable additions noted. The plot, typical of Gaiman, starts off from a number of classic elements, and then gets inspired from there.
Highly recommended for fans of fantasy, although too creepy and intense for small children. Violence, but no blood. No sex as such, but the decrepit vaudevillians Miss Spink and Miss Forcible (real life Brit comedy duo Saunders and French) get a bit risqué (and Coraline's adolescent embarrassment in response is well played).