In olden days fairy tales were not meant for children. Until The Brothers Grimm came along, and despite their ominous sounding name, cleaned up folkloric tales like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty by removing all the sex and most of the violence, fairy tales were best told after the kids went to bed. So it is with Coraline, a new animated movie based on the Hugo Award-winning book by Neil Gaiman. On the surface it looks like a kid’s movie with stop motion animation and a young central character, but make no mistake this is a PG13 movie filled with creepy images that could send the little ones straight from the theater to the psychiatrist’s couch.
Coraline’s (the voice of Dakota Fanning) journey into a strange and scary new world begins when her parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) rent an apartment in a peculiar house called The Pink Palace. Upstairs in the attic is circus performer Mr. Bobinski (Ian McShane) and his troupe of musical mice. Downstairs are a pair of retired actresses, Miss Forcible (Jennifer Saunders) and Miss Spink (Dawn French), who share their apartment ith a menagerie of Scottie dogs, some alive, some stuffed. Despite the colorful neighbors Coraline is bored. Her parents neglect her and the only other kid in the neighborhood is the weeby Wybie Lovat. Things get more interesting when she discovers a mysterious door hat leads to a mirror reality, an eccentric Alice Through the Looking Glass world, where er parents pay attention to her and life is interesting. It isn’t until things take a dark turn hat Coraline realizes she may never escape the eerie Other World and return home to her eal parents.
I’ll say it again, despite Coraline’s storyline about a young girl trying to find her way back to her parents and the animation, (it’s the first stop-motion animated feature to be originally filmed in 3D), this is not a movie for little kids. The New York Times called the novel “one of the most truly frightening books ever written” and while the movie tones down some of the scares for the big screen, it is still a chilling ride.
Visually it’s a cross between Pee Wee’s Playhouse and the gonzo caricatures of Ralph Steadman. Director Henry Selick, the brains behind James and the Giant Peach and The Nightmare Before Christmas, has created two unique worlds: Coraline’s mundane day-to-day world and the heightened existence she has behind the mysterious door. Both are flights of fancy, from a garden that recreates Coraline’s face to the marching mouse band. Rendered with great imagination and beauty by Selick and his team the film is pure cinematic eye candy.
Luckily the story equals the surreal imagery. Coraline’s journey to the dark mirror image of her life is effectively scary not because it offers a thrill a minute but because it plays on primal fears, the dread of being abandoned, the unknown and claustrophobia. These basic feelings form the backbone of the story and the inventive visuals and nice voice work from Dakota Fanning and the supporting cast do the rest.
Coraline is the rare animated film that succeeds both as mainstream entertainment and art.
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