Narrative Pushes “Coraline” to the Head of the Pack
Director Henry Selick, who is best known for the animated features: “Nightmare Before Christmas,” “James and the Giant Peach” and “Monkeybone,” combined the flexibility of digital animation with stop motion animation to produce the characters that provided a rich, revealing picture upon the foundation of a fine story in “Coraline.” Henry Selick also wrote the screenplay of the Neil Gaiman graphic novel, “Coraline,” and produced the film, which gave him the quality control to produce as good a film as was within his power.
Director Selick did not disappoint, and as far as animated features go it is a powerfully entertaining film. It is visually stimulating, while managing a tight, but rather eerie narrative. The aforementioned stop motion animation was done in the style and manner of the earlier Henry Selick / Tim Burton collaboration “Nightmare Before Christmas.” Both films dealt with the storyline that featured the macabre: In “Nightmare Before Christmas” a portal is opened between Halloween Town and Christmas Town; in “Coraline” there is an extra dimension that exists from a portal behind a sealed door, that is opened by a curious and very bored Coraline, the titular character.
Once the door is opened, Coraline is invited into the alternate dimension of her “other family,” who are identical to her real world family except for two readily discernable features: they are more attentive to her basic needs and they have buttons sewn where their eyes should be. This symbolic reference to the curious female receiving the invitation to a better existence, by way of an evil path, is as timeless as a curious Eve being tempted by the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. The force that Coraline encounters is nearly as malevolent as the Serpent, and the resolution of her story is just as uncertain until the conclusion of this film.
There are many colorful characters in this story, and are quite memorable. This film spent most of its budget on animators / computer graphic artist and technicians (450 in total), rather than on expensive actor’s voices for the animated characters. While most recent animated features will use a raft of the current and popular actors, “Coraline” did not, and the film did not suffer in any measure. Dakota Fanning, and Terri Hatcher as her mother, her other mother, and as the demonic witch were the only actors of some consequence in the leading roles. Ian McShane, in a minor role as Mr. B. (Bobinsky), and David Keith's role as the cat, were also very good. The other actors doing voices were excellent, but too numerous to mention.
Terri Hatcher certainly is a beautiful woman and charismatic actress, but she certainly is no A list actor. She is, however, wonderful; possibly irreplaceable in her three roles. Dakota Fanning, whose precocious manner is often a bit much for me, was very good as Coraline. The actors voices were seamless, with the stop motion animation, as they were folded into the computer graphics, which made this such a visually spectacular film.
I have admitted before that I respect the craft of animated films, using the computer graphics of today’s powerful computers, and the technically creative minds in the business today. I am, however, more impressed with the animated feature films that depend on an engaging narrative, and the more realistic stop motion animation. “Coraline, 100 minutes of runtime, is a very good film, but due to the theme of such dire malevolence, I suggest it for older children and all adults. It is the best animated film that I have seen in at least the last five years, and that is a long time, with some considerable time wasted wading through the many poorly constructed narratives of other computer generated animated films.
Rated PG. Released on DVD July 21, 2009.
This post appears courtesy of our sister site, Beaufort County NOW, with their expressed permission.