Monday, February 16, 2009

"Coraline" - spoiler movie review

"Coraline" really shows that neither Tim Burton nor Danny Elfman have lost their touch as they collaborated on yet another spectacular film.

OK, are you still reading this? Because if you haven't already stopped reading this in disgust, you should know that I'm only kidding, that I actually know that Tim Burton and Danny Elfman have nothing to do with this film, which is more than I can say for some real reviewers out there. The film is directed by Henry Selick, the same person who directed "The Nightmare Before Christmas".

I'll admit that I didn't really know much about the film going in. I'm not sure I'd even seen a trailer. I'd seen two different one sheets, the first being a little girl peering into a tiny open door, as depicted below.

There's a second one-sheet that I saw later, which is a portrait of the little girl and two people who look to be her parents. The parents have happy smiles on their faces, but the girl seems a bit puzzled and/or alarmed. I didn't realize until after I'd seen the movie that the parents in the portrait have button eyes, which would account for Coraline's reaction. But then, I saw the billboard while driving, so I only got a quick look at it.

The husband had seen the trailer and said it looked interesting. A friend who has many similiar interests as us knew about the movie and said he was looking forward to seeing it. And he told me that the film is based on a book by Neil Gaiman, who wrote one of my favorite books in the world, "Neverwhere". OK, I'm in.

I then heard that the film was being released in regular theatres and in a 3D version. I've come to really like 3D versions since Disney has been doing a lot of films that way, and the new 3D style is just an enhancement to the film, not as much for shock value and such. We arranged to meet the friend to see the movie in 3D. EPIC FAIL. We arrived at the theatre first, about 20 minutes before showtime, to discover that the screening was already sold out. OK, I had not expected that at all. There was another movie that was going to start about 10 minutes after, and it was a movie we all wanted to see anyway, so we saw that film instead. And when we got out, there were about 40 minutes until the next screening of "Coraline", so we bought tickets and got in line to wait to be let into the theatre.

I really loved this movie, but it's hard to really even say why. I liked the story ok, though I did have one major issue that I'll go into later. I really liked all the characters and how they're fairly well developed. I liked the look of the animation, which is not something I can say about every animated film as I definitely have my preference of animation styles. The movie had a quirkiness and overall charm that I really liked.

Coraline and her parents have moved to a new house, and being an only child to parents who are entirely preoccupied with their work being a writer and editor, Coraline finds herself being quite bored. There's a neighbor boy named Wybie who seems to show up out of nowhere, not to mention Wybie's weird black cat. There are also the downstairs neighbors, sisters who were actresses in days of yore, and an upstairs neighbor who is somehow involved in little rat circuses. But then, Coraline discovers a little blocked off door that one day is mysteriously not so much blocked off.

She crawls through to see what's on the other side.

What she finds on the other side is her mother. Well, ok, not her mother, but her Other Mother. This Other Mother is everything her mother isn't - attentive and a great cook who showers attention on Coraline. Her Other Father is also there, and he's a musician, writing songs on his piano. Her neighbors are there, but they are really successful versions of themselves, and even Wybie is there, although the version of him there has his mouth literally sewn shut so that he can't speak, since his talking in the regular world irritates Coraline quite a bit. And the black cat is there - only it's the same black cat as in her world, and in this alternate world, the black cat can speak to and understand her, and it can do more mysterious and odd things than the Cheshire Cat himself.

Coraline goes back and forth several times between the two worlds, and she is drawn into the alternate world more and more, kind of like the children in "The Twilight Zone" episode "The Bewitchin' Pool", but things certainly don't turn out the same as it did for those kids. The Other Mother wants to sew buttons into where Coraline's eyes are, and that way, Coraline can stay forever. When Coraline hesitates and seems to resist, things change, and the Other Mother isn't the bastion of motherhood that she previously appeared to be.

Coraline begins to find even more disturbing things, but when she resolves to leave the world, she discovers that her own parents have been kidnapped, so she has to go back to rescue them. But the Other Mother doesn't give up the fight quite that easily.

I was pretty entranced throughout the entire film, but I will admit that about half-way through, when bad things started to happen, it actually got a little frightening for me in bits, so I definitely think it's not an appropriate film for young kids.

The major thematic issue I had with the film is that Coraline's parents are very neglectful for much of the early part of the film. They're not just mildly inattentive - they pretty show like they have no interest or affection for her at all. No wonder she's starved for attention and love, and no wonder she is easily lured by The Other Mother. So the lesson is, even if your parents are completely neglectful, you should just deal with it, because the only other alternative is an evil woman who wants to poke your eyes out and put buttons in and take your soul? Ummm, ok. I've not read the book, but I just recently bought it, so I'm looking forward to seeing how the events play out there, especially since the friend mentioned one major difference that wasn't in the book and added for the movie.

I love the design of the title card itself. Once you know the story, the use of the button and the black cat fit perfectly.

Dakota Fanning does the voice of the title character, and she does an excellent job. I've been watching her since she was in "I Am Sam", so it's been interesting to see her grow up and watch her career blossom. She does the nuances of the character well, and I especially like the line of "Still Coraline", as she expresses her irritation that people cannot pronounce her name correctly. (It's like "Caroline", only with an "o" instead of an "a".) Dakota Fanning is also in the new movie "Push", which looks interesting to me, and I'm also interested in seeing how she does in that film. I think she's well on her way from shedding her child actor image and becoming a bonafide adult actor, kind of like the same transition that Anna Paquin has made.

Dakota Fanning voices the character of Coraline.

I had seen Teri Hatcher's name in the credits, but it wasn't until well into the film that I realized she was playing Coraline's mother. She also does the voice of the Other Mother as well, and she is really terrific in this film.

Teri Hatcher as Coraline's mom.

I didn't realize until I saw his picture that John Hodgman, who plays Coraline's father, is "PC" from the popular "PC vs. Mac" commercials. The actor who plays "Mac" (Justin Long) was in "Live Free or Die Hard" and is currently in "He's Just Not That Into You", so it's interesting to see both break out of their commercial roles.

John Hodgman as Coraline's dad.

Keith David is not an actor I'm familiar with (not to be confused with David Keith), but I thought he was wonderful as the voice of the black cat.

Keith David as the black cat.

One of the things I love about the film is how you can see the differences in the way things look and how that plays out in the story. Coraline's real life is drab in color and very plain whereas the alternate world has warm earthy colors.

Coraline's parents don't exactly live in a Technicolor world.

But the tones with the Other Parents are warm and inviting.

There are also major differences in the look of the Other Mother as the story progresses. In the beginning, there's much more roundness to her, which is soothing and pleasant. As she changes though, she becomes more jagged and her lines are more severe.

The Other Mother as Coraline first saw her.

The Other Mother's appearance begins to change as Coraline starts to displease her.

And then, of course, The Other Mother changes even more when you see her metallic innards.

Even though Wybie annoys Coraline at first, he ends up helping Coraline on both sides of the tunnel. I did think that non-talking Wybie was pretty creepy though, even though his regular version wasn't.

Coraline with non-talking Wybie. I like this shot because it was funny when alternate Wybie had all of those cotton candy pieces on him. Mmmmm, cotton candy...

There are so many little things that I really loved about the movie. The garden is really cool in its nice form, but then it turns really ugly when it attacks Coraline. I laughed when Coraline was bored standing at her father's office door, and when she realizes the door creaks, she just keeps moving it back and forth, creaking it, until it drives her father crazy. I loved that the moon was being eclipsed with a giant button. Those ghost kids were pretty creepy. And then after they were rescued by Coraline, one of them says something about her having done "a good thing, a real good thing". OK, then that flashed me back to "The Twilight Zone" episode called "It's A Good Life", in which really bad things happened, so that creeped me out again.

I did notice early on that the moving company is called Ranft Bros. Moving Company. I knew the name somehow sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it, and it wasn't until after the movie that the friend mentioned it was probably a tribute to Joe Ranft, who was working for Pixar when he was tragically killed in 2005, and the Pixar film "Cars" was dedicated to him. The character is supposedly modeled after him and is voiced by his brother Jerome. Both brothers worked with Henry Selick on "The Nightmare Before Christmas".

And no, Danny Elfman didn't write the music for this film, but the music is very Danny-esque.

I saw this book in Borders the other day, and it's got lots of information about the making of the film, so it's on my list of books to pick up sometime.

Here's the official website, with lots of fun things to look at.

A definite recommend on this film, and I'm planning to see it at least once more (in 2D) while it's still in theatres.


Sherry said...

I TOTALLY thought of you during the cotton candy bit! Perhaps they'll have cotton candy cannons on sale, and you can put 25 cents-worth in there, and fire off the cannon whenever you're having that craving.

Anonymous said...

i LOVE that movie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! for some reason i actually like the other mother. one of my favorite characters....