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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Coraline (review)

A lonely little girl, full of verve and imagination and left to fend for herself by busy parents, stumbles into a sinister magical trap. Or maybe she dreams it all. Or maybe it’s both forbidding fancy and cheerless candor at the same time. This elemental tale of childhood fantasies and nightmares, the joint vision of animator Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) and author Neil Gaiman (Stardust), strikes a fragile, grimly graceful balance redolent of The Wizard of Oz and Harry Potter in its uncomfortable honesty about the dark side of being a kid. While exploring her new home, 11-year-old Coraline Jones (the voice of Dakota Fanning: Push) stumbles across a mysterious little door, and of course she can’t resist exploring. On the other side: an alternate version of her life, with attentive parents and marvels galore. Though we, like savvy Coraline herself, feel that something-bad edging toward us in this too-good-to-be-true place, we cannot help being dazzled by this wondrous world, where a garden blooms when the moon rises and we are entertained by a fantastical circus of performing jumping mice. Honestly: there were moments here when I wanted to jump up and cheer at the fresh and glorious visions Selick, Gaiman, and their team of ingenious designers and stop-motion animators present to us. Deeply creepy even while it’s deeply charming, this is a miracle of a movie.

MPAA: rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • Alli

    I’m surprised it only made 16 Million. My theatre was full, and I was in a very economically strapped town. Still, I hope it’s enough to save the stop-motion artists in Oregon.

  • I was thinking this movie might be good. Then I saw that Gaiman was involved, and I actually felt excited about it. Now you are recommending it, so it’s decided. I’ll be stepping foot into the theatre for the first time this year to see Coraline. I don’t shell out the bucks for a theatre experience much these days, but I’m a sucka for a well-imagined fantasy story.

  • Ryan H

    For anyone going to see it, make sure you see it in a 3D theater. It really makes a difference. Even if it costs you a buck or two more. The texture it gives to the movie is gorgeous.

  • We saw it in 3D and agree.

  • I saw it in 2D, and it was wonderful. Made me wish I was a kid again.

  • Orangutan

    Just got back from seeing it in 3D. $3 extra at my theater. I don’t care one bit. It was worth every penny.

  • Gina

    According to Gaiman’s blog, it will likely only be in 3D for another week as the (ugh) Jonas Brothers movie will be taking those theaters.

    Oh, and stick through the credits. There are 3d terriers floating around and a glimpse of how they did the floating mice when she first goes through the door.

  • amanohyo

    This was disappointing, and I usually love this type of movie. The characters were extremely flat, to the point that they couldn’t carry the paper-thin plot. Visually, it had a few great moments, but the aerial shot of the garden is probably the only thing that will stick with me for more than a couple days. If you scrape away the surface weirdness for weirdness’ sake, it’s surprisingly derivative (I felt the same way about Meet the Robinsons). Not Harry Potter derivative mind you, but fairly uninspired.

    It’s not a bad movie, and I always like seeing a female protagonist, even though she still manages to get saved by the boy twice. It just could have used a beefier plot with a lot more character development. As it is, it could easily be cut down to forty-five minutes and be just as strong, if not a bit stronger.

    But this is obviously from the perspective of a jaded adult. Many of the kids in the audience were captivated throughout almost the entire movie; I wish it had a similar effect on me. I’ve enjoyed some darker “children’s” movies as an adult before, but I didn’t really care about any of these characters and even though the images were pretty, none of them were genuinely surprising. It ranks at about the same level as Pan’s Labyrinth, which disappointed me for similar reasons (it’s better than Corpse Bride though).

    Oh well, I can think of plenty of worse movies for kids to see (like, oh… every other movie I’ve seen this year). My expectations were too high I guess. As a side note, did the true form of the other mother remind anyone else of Helena Bonham Carter? I’m talking about the facial features, not just the skin tone and build.

  • Jean

    I agree with you, amanohyo. I saw it last night, and while the 3D was lovely and many of the images were striking, it was generally a not very good movie. The voice acting was extremely flat, the characters were not compelling, and the story just seemed to go on and on. The movie didn’t seem to be building to a climax, just kind of going along with things that happened until suddenly everything was over.

    The only part where I felt anything was near the end, and only then because I honestly thought they might end it in a surprising, macabre way. Instead, happy endings all around, though I really didn’t care.

    Go for the visuals, and the neat 3D effects, but until those elements are paired with a story and characters that I care about it’s just pretty fluff.

  • Rob

    An opening quote from the original book by Neil Gaiman reads something along the lines of the importance of dragons is not that they exist but that they can be beaten. So it would be unlikely that they would choose the horror movie ending.

    This story and the characters to an extent stray liberally from the source material but I think the last couple of commenters are being a bit hard on it.

    This movie was one of the most refreshing experiences I’ve had in a theatre in years. The 3D effect and hi-def images definately add a lot to the experiences and the craftsmanship and animation on display here is nothing short of stunning.

    I can see where the characters who are drawn fairly simply from a relatively short children’s story might appear thin and the voice acting at times may be an acquired taste. But the world feels so real and fully realized…the visuals are the story. The way the stop motion animators sketch real emotion on the faces of posable dolls is a marvel

    I think this movie has been in production for something like four years (which certainly shows in the detail of the end product). And it’s something for the creators to be proud of…it held pretty well its second week out so I think it’s a good bet to at least break even.

  • Jean

    I agree I might be a little hard on the movie. It certainly wasn’t horrible. My expectations my have been too high because I loved (and continue to love) “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and I was hoping that this would be as good. It’s not.

    That being said, it’s not “Beverly Hills Chihuahua”, but it’s not a classic. I’d like to read the original book, because I got a sense from the movie that there were a lot of ideas in the original story that only half made it to the screen (for instance, why name a character “Why Born?” and not really explain it?).

    I think that it would be a good movie for kids (and I suppose they are the target audience) but those adults who have been spoiled on Pixar and “Nightmare” should know it’s not in that league.

  • joey

    Actually, Whybie was an original character to the movie, he wasn’t in the book at all.

  • Ampersand

    “more below the ad… scroll down…”? Nothing but user comments. You cut out over half of the review.

  • Mo

    I just saw it and I loved it. I came at it from kind of a wonky perspective though, since I had just read the book, and it was the best book I have read in a very long time. I’d suggest that people with issues read the book since it will probably take care of most of them. Although if you don’t like Pan’s Labrinth and think that stuff is all derivative, I’m not really sure what to say beyond strongly suggesting Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories”. (Because it is derivative- that’s the point.)

    In some ways I have a lot of nitpicks with how things were translated to screen. A lot of really wonderful plot points were lost in the shuffle. At the same time I can’t believe how much they got right and in some pretty fantastic ways at that. It was really neat to see some of the particularly bizarre stuff from the book work out visually, like the trees that weren’t trees anymore or the scottie bats.

    My biggest problem is Wybie. He doesn’t belong there and he’s messing everything up. Coraline is a story about a girl who fights against nightmares with no friends, no powers, just her wits and a cat. From what I understand Neil Gaiman wrote it for his daughters, wanting to give them a real girl hero. And the moment it shows up on the screen what happens? Hey look, there’s a boy there to save the day. *headdesk*

    Anyway, that was my one movie for this year up until the summer. I really wish I could go see it again, but seriously- 14 bucks for a ticket?! Ow.

  • Gloria

    @Jean: His name was Wybie, and “Why Born” was Coraline’s derisive nickname for him. Kids, remember?

  • Orangutan

    @Gloria: I think his full name was Wyborn, which he shortened to Wybie, and which Coraline lengthened to ‘Why were you born?’. :)

  • Grant

    This was my first chance to catch a movie in the “new” 3D – though as near as I can tell, it’s the polarized light system that Disney and Kodak developed in the 80’s. I actually think the 3D detracted a bit from the movie. One of the points of using stop motion as opposed to tradional cell animation, is to film three dimensional objects in a three dimensional environment. (Computer animation basically replicates this in a virtual environment.) This gives the movie more “depth” all by itself.
    The 3D technology creates the illusion of depth basically by offsetting various parts of the image relative to each eye. The result is a series of “planes of distance” – effectively, several transparent 2D “screens” on which objects exist. My impressions of this is always of a set of animated cardboard cutouts being slid back and forth across a stage, much like the show the old ladies perform for Coraline. To me, the natural depth of the stop motion models was all but lost to the 3D. Plus, te system forces the audiences’ eyes to constantly refocus to keep up – exhausting.
    Based on this movie, and the 3D trailers shown before “Coraline”, I think I’m gonna catch “Up” in a 2D presentation.

  • JasonJ

    The wife and I are going to go see it this weekend, looking forward to it. No 3D, but that’s fine. I don’t care much for the effect anyway.

  • y

    I agree with Grant on the 3D. It was subtly done and all, but it really bothered my eyes. I don’t think I’ll be seeing any 3D again. I really couldn’t notice half of the detail in the animation due to the irritation (keep this in mind if you have sensitive eyes or anything like that).

    I would have preferred no Wybie as his presence changed Coraline’s character in a way I didn’t remember from the book (though, I did read it some years ago and might have a distorted memory about her). But either way it was enjoyable and it was a nice choice for the rainy day I went and saw it. I liked the old women and dogs the best along with the cat. Would have liked more of them. Could have been a tad shorter though (cutting out Wybie would have done that nicely).

    Again, don’t remember everything about the book, but it did better jobs than most at translating it I though. The tone of it seemed to fit. Worth seeing I thought.

  • markyd

    Saw this with the Fam yesterday. It was still playing in 3D so we did that. I thought the film was quite imaginative and really enjoyed it. My son, having never seen a 3D film before, claimed not to have seen any 3D at all. Silly kid. Definitely miles above most childrens fare, with a slight creepiness to boot. Good stuff.

  • MaSch

    May I just give two comments about how cinematically fucked up my country/city is?

    Last Sunday, my significant other and I went to a sneak preview. Guess what movie they showed? “Zack and Miri make a Porno”. Yes. That movie from last autumn.

    Today “Coraline” should have come to our local cinemas. I’ve been eagerly anticipating for that apparently awesome movie since February, and what do they do? They will show the movie one or two weeks later, because the spot for it is at the present moment filled by … No, not “Up”, that movie starts September, 17th. It’s filled by Ice Age.

    Yesterday I was the fifth person who asked when Coraline will start (part of why I asked was that the movie disappeared from the cinemas website and I was starting to become anxious). I hope many more will ask, and that the guy who runs the place puts Coraline into the projector by tomorrow at the latest.

    My, did I clean many F-bombs in this post …

  • Grinebiter

    Rented yesterday.

    A reflection: people have commented on how in American films people always realise the error of their ways. In the real world, of course, they generally don’t; although maybe if they don’t there’s no story. Something that bugged me here was that Coraline undergoes experiences that make her become a nicer little girl, but the improvement in her Real parents at the end is entirely without motivation, because they seem unaware that she has saved them. And the reason they are unaware is the massive self-absorption that made them such alienating parents to begin with. I’ve never seen such a good cinematic example of narcissism à deux.

    If you’re going to have a meditation on the two modes of parenting, with more or less benign neglect set up against manipulative predation, then I think you should have the courage of your convictions and have Coraline return to her indifferent parents but make the best of them as the lesser of the two evils. What did the book do?

  • Accounting Ninja

    You definitely have a point…there wasn’t really much catalyst for change on the part of her parents. But to me (and I could be wrong), it seemed like her mother had regretted, slightly, being so short with Coraline earlier (and unfair about the mittens). Hence the softer attitude at the end. Nothing to do with Coraline’s adventures. Sort of reminded me of Spirited Away, where Chihiro’s parents had no memory of the events and hadn’t changed one bit. But she had, profoundly. Spirited Away was better at conveying this than Coraline.

    Also, the overall impression I got wasn’t that her parents were bad people, nor was Coraline a bad kid. We were seeing just a snapshot of the family during a particularly stressful time: new move, new jobs, a bored, smart kid who doesn’t understand what her parents go through. Coraline seems like she’s always been a somewhat clingy, needy, negative sort of kid and maybe her parents had had all they could take of her then. As a parent I can relate. We’d like to think we’ll always be endless founts of patience for our kids, even though they are being non-stop complaining bellyachers and we are stretched to the max with life stresses and our adult concerns.

  • Grinebiter

    Hmm, a compare-and-contrast between the two films might be a good student exercise?

    I thought that Coraline had much more cause for complaint than Chihiro; as I said I found the Jones something a lot worse than stressed-out. But I’m not a parent, so I note with respect your more lenient take on them. On the gripping hand, both are only-children, and that is simply asking for a “clingy, needy” sort of kid, don’t you think?

  • Accounting Ninja

    No, Coraline was the “needy, clingy” one, but not physically. She just demanded her parents entertain her without regard for what they had to do. It was all about HER and how bored she was. As I’ve said to my son many times, entertaining him isn’t my job. The behavior is also a bit bratty. But more importantly, he’ll never develop an imagination if I’m constantly managing his boredom. Especially for only children (Coraline and my son), it’s just not feasible that we be his playmates.
    Chihiro just struck me as a bit soft and whiny. Maybe it’s a cultural thing too; Chihiro’s qualities maybe would seem much brattier to Japanese audiences than Westerners. Americans, anyway, tend to coddle their kids and not expect very much of them.
    Neither girl struck me as horrible, though. More like, they had a lot of growing to do.
    At first Coraline’s parents did seem like jerks, but her mom’s softness and mild regret toward the end, coupled with the background talk of new house/new jobs, made me realize that it was probably just a stressful time for everyone that we were seeing. Plus, it also highlighted that gap in communication that often leads to tension between parent and child: parents don’t realize something as “silly” as a pair of gloves can mean something very important to a child, like keeping a vestige of her identity during a tumultuous time in her life, and she, a child, is not yet aware enough to verbalize this. Though her mother never “got” the depth of their importance, she did realize that she was being over-harsh in forbidding something as simple as funky gloves that would cheer up Coraline.
    It’s a lesson I learn all the time as a parent. Why am I saying no? What does this really mean to him?

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