One doesn’t need much to be eccentric: a slightly odd name does the trick. Though I do know some girls who have a peculiar name and are quite stylish and content, a lot of them suffer because of their name. Especially the ones with a name that sounds very much like a regular name but is still different. (Between you and me, that was the basis for the novel I’m working on at the moment.)
Lo and behold, up pops a movie with a similar idea…
No, it’s not Caroline. The protagonist of Henry Selick‘s latest film is Coraline. She is an adventurous girl who’s just moved to a new place together with her mum and dad. Both write books and brochures on gardening. They’re not tremendously happy with it, but it pays the rent.
Coraline, their only daughter, is extremely bored as she can’t go out when it rains and has to play inside the spooky old house. Not that rainless days help much: the neighbours are either eccentric (two old ladies who used to work as actresses and have poodles as housemates, a former circus artist who worked with mice…) or annoying (Wybie, a boy roughly Coraline’s age, whose grandmother warned him never to enter Coraline’s house).
That is why we can’t be sure if Coraline dreamt there’s a small door leading to a parallel universe or if it really happened. The good news is the parallel world also contains the same people Coraline knows in reality. The slightly less good news: they’re dolls and have buttons for eyes.
This somehow evolves into an animation film with an evil witch and a scary world, but I’ll try not to spoil it, in case you still want to see this film. I do want to tell you there is a lot of adult humour in this film and I don’t mean the sort of grown-up jokes you get in Shrek movies: the passage to the other world looks remarkably like a womb (that hasn’t been a plot element since No(r)way of Life) and there are a couple of castration jokes the youngest ones in the audience won’t get either.
Another fairly adult nodge kids wouldn’t get (and nor would I if I hadn’t read about this on the internet): Mr. Bobinsky, the former circus artist, is wearing the Russian Hero Medal for Service at the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster. This medal is unique as it is the only medal in the world awarded for participation in a nuclear clean up. That might explain his skin complexion and odd behavior.
That makes Coraline a film both young and old can enjoy. Even I could, despite not really liking Dakota Fanning (still, didn’t have to look at her face) who voiced Coraline and loathing John Hodgman (who got to do the voice for Coraline’s father and is one of the unfunniest one-trick-pony comedians out there). I was almost impressed with the man’s singing voice (which sounded like the They Might Be Giants singer), but the credits told me a TMBG song had been used in the film, so to this day I still can’t find a positive thing about Hodgman.
Other voices include Teri Hatcher (Coraline’s mother) and British comedy duo French and Saunders (as the bubbly actresses).
Coraline is the first stop-motion animated feature to be shot entirely in 3-D and it looks good (even in 2D, by the way). It constantly moves from nightmarishly awful to hauntingly beautiful, even though adults like us probably won’t be scared by the film anymore. (Instead, they’ll love the gothic atmosphere – well, if they’re so inclined…)
Up to this point, Selick’s career mostly profited when Tim Burton was around (think Nightmare Before Christmas). I never really liked what I’d seen of James and the Giant Peach and didn’t feel tempted to watch the rest and have me proven wrong. Coraline “is” Selick without Burton’s influence and it’s a fairly good film. Some of it was clearly there to boast about the 3D and so it’s a bit annoying, but overall it’s a lovely film.
P.S. More animation on Sunday, when I’ll review Panique au Village.
P.P.S. Coraline is still playing in Belgian cinemas right now, but in the U.S. the DVD was released last week. The two disc special edition and Blu-Ray edition contain a digital copy which will expire in a year. There are other features too, but I’m sorry that I wrote that sentence with an expiry date of seven seconds, so it’ll be deleted by the time you get to this sentence. So there you go… it’s a nice film which you shouldn’t buy: wait two years till it’s on television, then you can record it for eternity.