Stop motion animation makes me sleepy. I can’t make it through James and the Giant Peach or Nightmare Before Christmas without nodding off. So, it was a big gamble for me to check out Henry Selick’s production of Coraline this past weekend.
I was planning on waiting for Coraline to be released on video before giving it a chance, but the boys at the Scene Unseen podcast talked me into it. The gimmick of Scene Unseen is that one critic reviews the film based on the trailer and his hunch, while the other critic bases his reviews on actually seeing the film. On the subject of Coraline, the critic who had seen the film enjoyed the movie much more than the other critic expected he would. It’s a silly theme for a podcast, but I enjoy it.
Much like Scene Unseen, Coraline had a gimmick – the animation was 3D. As any movie-goer can attest, the gimmick of 3D can overshadow most films. Usually, they try to poke spears in your face, like Beowulf and the like, but Coraline was different. I would say that the 3D in Coraline served to immerse me in the story, rather than overwhelm me with special effects.
Coraline is a creepy little tale based on a Neil Gaiman novel. If you aren’t familiar with Gaiman, you may want to see his earlier work such as Sandman, Mirrormask, and Stardust, all imaginative fantastical myths that border on pretension. Coraline is one of Gaiman’s best yarns, so don’t be worried if you hated Stardust etc.
There is so much energetic imagination in little Coraline; she is a true contrast to her surroundings. The movie opens with her exploring the bleak and dreary artist commune in Oregon, where she only recently moved with her distracted and work-focused parents. While they are slaving away at writing articles for a gardening magazine, Coraline is busy exploring the new house and meeting all her oddball neighbors.
My skeptic readers will most certainly appreciate one particular scene in which Coraline finds a “divining rod” and starts water witching. Her new friend says, “you know that stuff doesn’t work, right?” Of course, this minor skeptical victory was followed by an impossible fantasy, but that is obviously to be expected in a children’s fairy tale.
Following the pattern of other children’s fantasies, Coraline visits a fantasy world to escape from a reality in which she feels she is unappreciated. Many children’s fantasies set the stage for this journey into the fantastical by putting the young protagonist into a situation of abuse (like Harry Potter and James and the Giant Peach), but Coraline is not abused in any way, save for circumstantial neglect. So, in a twist on those classic tales, Coraline does not find fame and greatness (such as the siblings in Narnia, as an example) because she does not have a true need for personal glory and triumph.
There is always an element of rebirth in children’s fantasies: James crawls into a moist peach, the Pevensie siblings journey through a tunnel of fur coats, Alice falls down a rabbit hole. Coraline is no different, she figuratively crawls through a vaginal tunnel (a hole in the wall) into a button-eyed fantasy world where she is reborn to a “perfect” mother, who turns out to be demonstrably less-than-perfect.
It’s Coraline’s journey to realize that her parents are pretty good people. Other stories in this genre have a different theme, such as to teach the protagonist a lesson in self empowerment, to let him be a hero in a fantasy world because he is helpless in reality. This is not the case with Coraline, she must find her own sense of heroism from within, so that she can find her way back home to her unabusive family and escape from the terror unleashed in the horrific mirror world that once seemed so enticing.
I don’t think that this is a movie for the under six crowd. Aspects of it are truly horrifying and will cause nightmares. It bothers me to think how many parents will ignorantly bring their toddlers to see this movie because it would be truly damaging to a young child, in my opinion. I mean, it’s not THAT bad, but seriously, it’s bizarre and would be hard to process for a young child.
I went to see Coraline without my children and walked out satisfied by it’s merits. It will probably be several years before I let them see the film, but as an adult, I really enjoyed it. Go see it in 3D and immerse yourself in the cute tale of a girl’s horrifying adventure. You won’t regret it.