Just Watched: Coraline

As this heady run of movie reviews draws to a close, we have a movie utterly incomparable with any of the previous entries. No, the visually stupendous Coraline has no point of comparison with Czech cinema, gory werewolf transformations or Paul Rudd. Despite this, however, this charming little movie was excellent; a wonderful change from the CGI-laden kids’ films of the last few years, its handcrafted appearance more Wallace and Gromit than Shark Boy and Lava Girl.

Coraline is based around the titular young lady, voiced by Dakota Fanning, whose family have just moved to the countryside. With no friends and little to do before school starts, Coraline meets the neighbours and tries to make her work-centric mother (Teri Hatcher) and father (John Hodgman) entertain her, without success. Then, one dreary day, she discovers a tiny door in the wall of the house, and that night discovers a secret nocturnal passageway, the other side of which is a parallel universe. Her ‘other’ mother and father are caring, funny and loving, and everything about this other world is perfect, except that everyone has buttons instead of eyes. The only way for Coraline to stay is to swap her eyes for buttons, and the movie starts its sinister descent from there.

The dark second half of the movie is really what makes this picture stand out from the others. The animation is reminiscent of the equally macabre The Nightmare Before Christmas (whose director, Henry Selick, also helmed this movie), and when the Other Mother’s intentions to trap Coraline become clear, all the beauty of this other world is gravely turned on its head as Coraline tries to save her parents and herself. The animation is wonderfully suited to this darker tone, with spidery limbs and dissolving characters every bit as menacing as they should be.

Coraline herself, en route to discovering the parallel world.

Coraline herself, en route to discovering the parallel world.

Coraline herself is a fairly typical heroine for this type of film – plucky, intelligent and curious – but the challenges she faces in this film make Draco Malfoy seem about as threatening as some sour milk. The menace with which the animation imbues the film’s surroundings does wonders, whether revealing the cruel truths of Coraline’s other world or the strange ones of her real life, and the film’s characters really benefit from some inspired writing.

The parallel universe Coraline visits is weird, certainly, but her real life is every bit as odd. The giant Mr. B (Ian McShane) is training a mouse circus and simultaneously stretching his gymnastic muscles, whilst downstairs neighbours Mses. Spink and Forcible (Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders) are retired stage actresses who keep their deceased terriers stuffed and mounted on the walls. Wyborn, the only kid of Coraline’s age, is similarly odd, constantly accompanied by his haughty black cat and bike.

Mses. Spink and Forcible, no doubt arguing a miniscule point.

Mses. Spink and Forcible, no doubt arguing a miniscule point.

However, whilst all these characters fail to achieve in the real world, in the film’s twisted alternate reality Coraline’s dreams for them are entertainingly achieved: Mr. B’s mouse circus is in full swing, Spink and Forcible are still performing outrageous showtunes and Wybie can’t talk so he doesn’t annoy Coraline. The thrilling set-pieces we witness in this other reality make us realize why a young girl like Coraline would be so drawn in to this dreamlike world. But when all turns sour, the beauty of this world is chillingly turned on its head, making the film’s final third pretty disturbing for what is notionally a kids’ movie.

Far from being a pretty-looking but emotionally vapid picture, Coraline is one of the most refreshing, enjoyable children’s movies made in the last ten years. The movie’s opening half will entertain pretty much everyone, with some surprisingly adult jokes slipped into the script (Coraline frequently calls Wyborn “why-were-you-born”, for example), and when the disturbing truths of the ‘other world’ come to light, kids are sure to be scared but grown-ups thrilled. Coraline never takes the easy way out – every character is totally explored and the ending will not leave anyone feeling cheated or short-changed. It’s a visually brilliant picture backed up by an extremely clever plot and well-acted voices, and definitely worth hunting down.

8/10: A charming little movie as unflinching and determined as its heroine, Coraline is not a kids’ film in any normal sense. Rather, it’s a clever, funny and visually brilliant picture which is certain to entertain anyone with a heart, whether aged 6 or 60. One of very few non-Pixar movies made in the last decade to carry a cross-generational appeal, Coraline is a great film whose craftsmanship and guts loft it high above the usual dross of children’s cinema.

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