Coraline is a more mature animated movie than it initially appears. It tells a relatively simple basic story, but in the details are dark secrets that are definitely more adult oriented. It ultimately is pandering, especially in its message, but, like most of Pixar’s films — this wasn’t Pixar, but it’s close in terms of quality — adults will easily be able to enjoy it, too. Or, at least, they have the same potential to enjoy it. I can’t call myself a big fan of the finished product.
The film follows the adventures of a young Coraline Jones (voice of Dakota Fanning), who has recently moved to a new town with her mother (Teri Hatcher) and father (John Hodgman). Neither of her parents spend time with her, she has no friends here, and she’s grumpy as a result. This is a more realistic child than in most animated movies — movies in general, really. She has the whole range of emotions, which is great to see considering how many times a younger character is typecast as one or two things.
Unsatisfied with her real life, she explores her house, only to find a miniature door, which unfortunately is bricked up. The following night, some mice lead her to the door, and the bricks are gone. Down the rabbit hole she goes, only to find herself in a parallel world, one in which everyone seems to exist just to make her happy. Her “Other Mother” and “Other Father” exist to please her every whim. The only difference from her real world is that all of the surrounding cast now have buttons instead of eyes. Of course, everything is not quite as it seems, but I’ll leave you to discover exactly what for yourself.
The moral of the story is this: Don’t take your life for granted. Also, something that’s too good to be true probably is. These are good points to get across to the children, I suppose, and if the intention here is to scare it into them, Coraline is a good way to do it. The film is by Henry Selick, the man behind The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach and the criminally underrated and absolutely horrifying Monkeybone. You should know the type of creepy imagery you’re going to get into.
That is true here, and there are a lot of scenes in Coraline that could easily scare a younger child. Even older ones, I suppose, could be scared if they’re not the kind of person with a high tolerance. It’s a surreal film, one with lots of insects, disproportionate limbs, and scenery that moves and acts in ways you hope it wouldn’t. It might still be Selick’s tamest film, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I’m not usually one to complain about the animation, especially given how much time it takes to make an animated film, but I found some parts of Coraline to be lackluster in this department. The majority of the film is stop-motion, and for the most part, it’s smooth. However, there are some actions that become very apparent that it is stop-motion; frames almost appear to be missing. It might have just been missing a bit of polish, or perhaps the deadline was approaching and corners had to be cut. I’m not sure.
It does, for the most part, look great. I complain because it takes you out of the film. It has a unique visual style that draws you in, but when a small problem like this happens, you’re taken out of the film’s world. This happened less frequently as Coraline went on, and it’s an admittedly minor complaint, but it’s still one that I feel is worth pointing out. This is still very fluid stop-motion, though, and it’s unlike almost any other film you’ve ever seen — even if you’ve seen Selick’s other films.
I wasn’t completely sold on the narrative. Most of it seemed formulaic, and you can pretty much tell the direction it’s going to take as soon as it starts. Once a treasure hunt started for a few MacGuffins, I was just about done following Ms. Jones. The creepy imagery doesn’t advance past what is established relatively early on, the characters, save for Coraline, are all shallow, and there isn’t much worth staying around for after you figure out how it’s going to conclude. I applaud the effort, but it’s just kind of dull.
There is a lot of talent behind the camera, and behind the characters. Henry Selick has a unique vision, and he knows the types of films he wants to make. The voice cast, featuring the likes of the aforementioned Fanning, Hatcher and Hodgman, as well as Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Ian McShane, Keith David and Robery Bailey, are all enjoyable to listen to. The film itself always has something interesting to look at even if its narrative gets dull and predictable, and, while it’s a tad long, it gets the job done.
I think Coraline is a good film, although I think its story holds it back from being a great or even really enjoyable one. Its animation is sometimes a bit unpolished, and the narrative needed some work in order to properly adapt it from the book it’s based on, but it brings up a good message and has a ton of talent driving it forward. It’s intermittently creepy and scary, and it always looks great. It’s worth watching especially for fans of animation, and it isn’t, strictly speaking, a “children’s movie,” which is a plus for any adults in the room.