Screenwriter: Henry Selick
Starring: Dakota Fanning,Teri Hatcher, Ian McShane, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders
Running time: 100 mins
As animation shifts away from human hands to computer processors, Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) seems perfectly content operating in the world of stop-motion. The method is a painstaking ordeal of photographing a model, making a small adjustment to its position, then photographing again. Lather, rinse and repeat for years until the illusion of movement is created for a feature-length running time. His newest movie Coraline does make one significant concession to modern animation, though - it's been given a 3-D visual pop.
Based on Neil Gaiman's children's fantasy novella, Coraline follows an 11-year-old girl as she and her inattentive mother (Teri Hatcher) and father (John Hodgman) start a new life in Oregon. Like all protagonists in stories like this, Coraline's inquisitive nature leads her on an adventure. In this instance, through a hidden door in her new home and into an alternative version of her life. There, Other Mother and Other Father are less negligent and respond to her every beck and call. However, these other-world parents creepily have buttons sewn on their faces in place of eyes. When things take a sinister turn, Coralline must defeat her evil surrogates and escape the nightmarish world she finds herself in.
Recycling elements from Alice In Wonderland, Spirited Away and Pan's Labyrinth into a macabre bedtime yarn, Coraline is rich in visual splendour yet never pushes past the clichés and conventions of its fantasy predecessors to be considered a truly great film. Selick has dressed Gaiman's story in his own inimitable style, but it's still a tale that's all too familiar. At one point, They Might Be Giants were tasked with providing the soundtrack for the film, and their sprightly alt-rock might have added a much-needed extra dimension had Selick not decided to go with such a sullen mood.
With its odd quirks and eccentric characters - among them Russian gymnast Mr Bobinsky (McShane) and two old dames Spink and Forcible (delightfully voiced by Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French) - Coraline feels Charlie Kaufman-esque, preoccupied with a morbidity (Spink and Forcible speak of taxiderming their ailing dog) that'll make it tricky to enrapture youngsters. However, on the occasions it drops the gloom - most notably when hundreds of Bobinsky's performing mice execute ambitious circus acrobatics and when Coraline sees a garden colourfully blooming to life in front of her eyes - it's spectacular.
Coraline explores a different approach to the 3-D format, using the technology to supplement the spooky atmosphere and immerse the viewer, pulling them into the world instead of projecting things out of it. Unfortunately, this originality isn't mirrored in a narrative that circles back to those familiar thematic tropes of parental abandonment and innocence lost. Coraline is more of an odd curiosity than a must see, lacking the storytelling innovation to match its visual panache.
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