Written and directed by Henry Selick and based on the novel by Neil Geiman, this stop-motion animated feature film tells the story of a young girl named Coraline who has just moved into a dreary apartment with her parents. Coraline doesn’t much care for her new home or her weird neighbours – but then she discovers a portal to a place which seems to be a magical, amazing version of her own world. In this ‘other world’ everyone and everything is better than it was in the real world. There’s only one disconcerting quality about this other world – everyone has buttons where their eyes should be. This is the experience of watching Coraline: it’s absolutely wonderful, but with a hint of menace.
The film is a passive mystery where the big question is: what is the truth behind the portal and the other world? But Coraline (the character) is more concerned with just enjoying and experiencing this new world – and so too is the audience. There’s a vibrant cast of characters to meet and part of the fun of this film is seeing these haggard looking people in the real world and then meeting their idealised doppelgangers in the other world. But what really makes things interesting is that there’s a sense of magic in both places that disrupts your expectations and blurs the lines between the two worlds. Although Coraline is enraptured by the performances her idealised neighbours put on for her (and the audience) the question looms: what is really going on?
Coraline is an spellbinding film that oozes with that certain goodness that only occurs when the art of a film is deftly and knowingly supporting the story. Animation studio Laika have created something amazing and beautiful like you’ve never seen before. It’s astounding to think that these characters are stop-motion puppets or that this world is a miniature set when the camera feels so grounded in reality and the animation is so beautifully believable. The weight, the arcs, malleable quality of the faces – everything about the way the characters moves makes them real. Then there’s the distortions of reality that appear to be convincing – yet must be impossible. Even in the world of stop motion animation it’s crazy to think that these visuals could be created. The detail in the craftsmanship and ideas in this film are so vast that the life that this film has can only be described as magical.
The spell it casts on the audience puts you very much in a similar position as Coraline – who, by the way, is an awesome character. She’s someone you’ll adore within seconds of meeting her and although the story is motivated by her dissatisfaction, Coraline manages to steer clear of being annoyingly selfish. Instead she’s assertive and appealing even when she’s in a sour mood. Dakota Fanning provides her voice and does a sterling job. Though you may recognise the names of the actors in the credits, all you’ll ‘hear’ when someone speaks is the voice of that character; the voice acting is genuine across the board.
Really, every aspect of Coraline is impressive, from the musical score to the art direction to the way it sounds to the sharp points and subtle curves of the character designs – it’s just a wonderfully produced film. In addition it explores ideas of addiction, temptation and the relationship between children and parents that is incredibly relevant to a viewer of any age. What few criticisms I have of this film are minor; such as how the third act is a bit too segmented and akin to separated levels of a video game. It’s Felidae meets The Nightmare Before Christmas, it’s amazing and you should definitely go see it.
Soon actually, as Coraline is having a very short stint in Australian cinemas. Or you could import the DVD from America – but I really encourage you to watch it in 3D in cinemas as Coraline has the most absorbing and convincing 3D I’ve ever seen, while still having a clear, beautiful picture. Did I mention that Coraline was amazing?