Directed by Henry Selick
Written by Henry Selick, based on the book by Neil Gaiman
With the voices of:
Dakota Fanning as Coraline Jones
Teri Hatcher as Mother/Other Mother
Jennifer Saunders as Miss Spink
Dawn French as Miss Forcible
Keith David as Cat
John Hodgman as Father/Other Father
Ian McShane as Mr. Bobinsky
Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor.
It is with a strong hope to me that "Coraline" ends the common mistake that Tim Burton is the director of "The Nightmare Before Christmas," because every time someone asks me how Tim Burton's latest film was, I shake my head in frustration. Despite coming up with the story and producing it, "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is really mostly contributed by the amazing imagination of Henry Selick, who is probably the most underrated animation director I can think of, as he hardly gets any credit for some really unique films. But "Coraline" may put a stop to that, as its lack of Tim Burton involvement will only detach Selick from being mixed up with him, as just because the two have similar styles and genre penchants, there is really a vast difference between their work.
"Coraline" is also partially the brainchild of Neil Gaiman, as it comes from the world that his popular book describes, a book that I would like to read as I have heard it really delves into fantasy to the point where it becomes almost scary. I somewhat wish Selick didn't hold back and really made this movie terrifying, as there were some scenes that I even got a bit squirmish about. I was first introduced to Neil Gaiman's work after seeing the wonderful "MirrorMask" a few years back, very much intriqued by the unique details that was given to the vastly fantastic worlds he has created in his graphic novels. And the same goes for "Coraline," and its safe to say that Selick really paid careful attention to the details that Gaiman much have laid out in his writings.
Using the stop motion animation that is still my favorite type, Selick eases the viewer into this imaginative world with a rather haunting opening credits sequence with some rather amazing music by Bruno Coulais, who fills the soundtrack with some equally incredible pieces that really blend reality with dreams, probably perfect as the main track is called "Dreaming." But I digress. We are then introduced to Coraline Jones, whose family has just moved to a rather dreary apartment complex, with two equally bizarre tenants, including the buxom Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, and the very tall and bendy mouse performer Mr. Bobinsky. Coraline's parents have a lot of to be desired, the two of them constantly working and seeming to ignore Coraline's needs. While exploring the house, and counting the windows and pipes and such, Coraline fidns a mysterious locked door. At night, the door beckons her, and after opening it she finds herself thrown into a parallel universe, where her parents are doting and kind, but with one little problem: their eyes are sewn shut with buttons. As Coraline begins to prefer the world of her "other" parents, she also begins to notice how her other Mother begins to get more and more dark, and evil, and possessive, causing Coraline to have to discover the secrets of the locked door, and the world of the others.
Aside from a few small problems are the film reaches its climax, as well as the third act feeling more like material for a video game and not a film, "Coraline" is a magical and wonderful experience to behold. As these wonderful visuals passed over me, I wanted to be sucked up into them. I saw the film in its 2-D format, but I would have loved to see it in 3-D, which I hear brings even more perfect detail to the Gothic images. I already mentioned Bruno Coulais' perfect score, which sounded like something I'd expect from Thomas Newman. This is the rare animated feature (that isn't made by Pixar), that allows adults to have something to find as well as young children, to the point where the line between child's movie and animation for adults almost becomes blurred. Yes, I'd imagine some of the material in 'Coraline" is too scary for children, but I can imagine some older folk being somewhat disturbed by what they see, especially towards the end when the Other Mother crosses the line into "witch" territory.
The voice acting is all quite good, and I particularly admired how Selick opted for less known voices. Aside from Dakota Fanning, who probably ties with Teri Hatcher as the most well known actors involved. But there is also good work by Jennifer Saunders, Ian McShane, and Keith David. Not actors I'd expect the average Joe to know by name, but certainly by face. They all bring a nice amount of quirk to their characters, and it all is very fitting instead of opting for big names just to splash onto the poster. But in keeping tradition with "Nightmare Before Christmas," Selick goes for the suitable voices for his characters and not ones that will make the most money.
And so with that, "Coraline" is simply a wonderful fable, sealing the fact that Henry Selick is one of the best people working in animation today. Everything seems to work here, and there is hardly a false note in Selick's visual style (only at times with his script, which seems to get lazy nearing the finale.) It's a rare film from early in the year that sneaks up and surprises viewers, and hopefully it's presence will linger towards the end of the year to make the Best Animated Picture race at the Oscars next year a little more interesting.