2/09/2009

Coraline

Saw Coraline yesterday at the Village Pointe movie theatre, because they have digital projectors and were showing it in 3D, unlike the AMC theatre, which is closer to me, but needs to upgrade its projectors. Now, I think 3D is just a fad, a cheap gimmick, to try to lure people into the movie theatre. I don't particularly care for it, nor do I think movies need it. Sitting in a theatre with those clunky plastic frames on your head is uncomfortable, especially if you wear glasses. But, that being said, Coraline looked really pretty in 3D. Of course, it would certainly look good regardless, but they used the technology to great effect with this particular film.

For those who may be unaware, Coraline is a stop-motion animation film directed by the guy who directed The Nightmare Before Christmas, who we all should know by now is NOT Tim Burton. Henry Selick is his name, and he is a wonderfully inventive master of all things puppets. Stop-motion is a painstakingly long and arduous process in which you place your "actors" on the adorably tiny set, shoot a frame of film, move the puppet a fraction of an inch, shoot a frame of film, and so on. It can take weeks to film mere seconds. It took the amazingly talented and patient designers and animators at Portland-based LAIKA (founded by Nike CEO Phil Knight) three years to create the hour and 40 minute Coraline.

Coraline is nothing short of a breathtaking masterpiece of stop-motion animation and storytelling. The story is somewhat akin to a darker version of Alice in Wonderland, wherein our heroine, 11-year-old Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning), discovers a tiny bricked up door in the house she and her oft-neglectful parents have just moved into. Bricked up, that is, except at night, when the door opens onto a passageway to another world, a mirror world, where everything is the same, only better, including Coraline's parents, who, instead of being wrapped up in their jobs, dote on Coraline with food and presents and everything she could ever hope for. Coraline's Other Mother (wickedly performed by Teri Hatcher) and Other Father (the always amusing John Hodgman) want nothing more than for her to stay in their world and let them love her. There is only one condition: she must allow her Other Mother to replace her eyes with big, black, shiny buttons.

Coraline, of course, is repulsed by the very thought of having big black buttons for eyes and escapes back to her own world, only to discover, with the help of a mangy, feral Cat (voiced by the deep, scratchy baritone of Keith David), that her real parents have been stolen away by her Other Mother. Frightened but determined, Coraline realizes she must return to the mirror world to save her parents.

To say that Coraline is sometimes very creepy is an understatement. But it's also extremely charming and whimsical and lots of fun. I dare you to watch Mr. Bobinsky (wonderfully voiced by Deadwood's Ian McShane)'s Mouse Circus perform or see the theatre seats filled with hundreds of tail-wagging Scottish Terriers and not laugh out loud in childlike glee while marveling at the intricacy of the animation.

Given my undying love of The Nightmare Before Christmas and all things Neil Gaiman (from whose novel Coraline was adapted), I'm sure I was predisposed to enjoying this movie, but there were enough changes from the book that the story still felt fresh and new, even after having read the book multiple times.

I cannot recommend this movie enough, for children of all ages, unless they frighten easily. I think my seven and a half year old local nephew would be scared, but maybe my four and a half year old not local nephew would love it. Regardless, it's a marvelous film, exquisitely and lovingly crafted. It's pure magic if you'll let yourself be carried away by it.

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