Is there really any such thing as a kids movie these days? While Coraline may bear a PG rating, this fantasy/horror is certainly not a film for young children. There may not be any blood and gore, but the creepy images presented in this film are, in some ways, even more disturbing, be it metallic-legged spider-like hands or warped buttons eyes.
For older children, however, whether they be of school age or merely the young at heart, this is an eye-popping fantasy that deserves viewing and, now it’s on DVD, here’s your chance.
Based on a novella by Neil Gaiman, the film tells the story of our eponymous heroine (voiced by Dakota Fanning), whose parents (Teri Hatcher – yes, you read that right) and (John Hodgman), have rented the main part of a large and creepy house called the Pink Palace. Feeling the pressure, both her writer parents are tied to their laptop keyboards, and don’t have time for Coraline.
As an only child, Coraline has to make her own entertainment in her spacious but rather run down surroundings. She soon discovers that it’s not just the house that is odd, but also her neighbours.
She meets two retired, and very odd burlesque performers called Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, (voiced by Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, having too much fun), and a former Russian circus performer called Mr Bobinsky (Ian McShane). Coraline also encounters an odd boy her age called Wybie, who, despite her need for companionship, is not the sort of pal she had in mind.
Exploring the massive house, Coraline soon discovers a magic door through which she emerges into a Through The Looking Glass style alternate version of her world. It’s a seemingly more perfect, upgraded version of her reality, with parents who are somehow, better looking, better attired and well off and somehow have all the time for her in the world.
The only odd thing is that in place of eyes, they have big, black, and very ominous buttons. Soon Coraline discovers the moral of ‘all that glitters’, and when she becomes trapped in this clearly nightmarish world she needs to fight to get back to her reality.
The story clearly has echoes of classic children’s’ fiction, with Lewis Caroll, Roald Dahl, and the Brothers Grimm all top of the list. If truth be told, the moral and themes are actually quite traditional and safe – that the grass isn’t always greener, that your Mum and Dad really love you, and as the tag line goes, ‘be careful what you wish for’. Also I would say that at times the plot lacks a little narrative drive, and were not the images on screen so arresting, my attention could have wandered.
In terms of voice acting, the performances are energetic. French and Saunders clearly relish their roles and this surely has to be the best thing that Teri Hatcher has ever done. She really delivers as the evil ‘Other Mother’.
Stylistically, it’s Tim Burton-esque and if you’ve seen and enjoyed the Burton produced and Henry Selick directed The Nightmare Before Christmas and James And The Giant Peach, you’ll be on familiar, if certainly not quite comfortable ground (Selick is the man calling the shots here). As it happens, while I am aware of these films, I haven’t seen either, so I was a fresh canvas onto which this animation style could weave its magic.
The visual effects of the film are nothing short of a feast for the eyes, and the stop motion effect conveys an underlying horror more effectively than smooth 3D animation would have.
That said, there are some overlaid digital effects, and the Other Mother’s world crumbling reminded me very much of the Twilight world in the Zelda game for the Wii, making for a effective contrast with the hand crafted look of the rest of the film.
As you’ll find out when you watch the ‘Making of the movie’ extra on the DVD, the painstaking approach that stop motion filming requires is simply staggering. The film was also made with 3D in mind, so I have to admit that I was slightly disappointed to receive the standard single disc 2D version for review. Would not the impact be lost in a mere two dimensions, I wondered?
Having seen the film, I would imagine instead that, in fact, the second rate anaglyph 3D tech that we’re currently limited to in the home would possibly have merely detracted from the rich detail of the images, and the only reason I would tell you to avoid the DVD version would be to pick up the Blu-ray if you can, which surely would be the format to do justice to the stunning visuals of Coraline.
Coraline is out now.
Review discs were provided by Zavvi.com.