Gorgeous stop-motion animation tells dark tale

2009-05-10 00:00

Film: Coraline


NOT all animation is for small kids, and Coraline, adapted from a novel by Neil Gaiman, is certainly not.

Filmed by stop-motion expert Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach) Coraline is gorgeous to look at, and very creepy.

Coraline Jones (voice of Dakota Fanning) moves with her preoccupied parents to a flat in a big old house. They’re always busy, so Coraline must occupy herself. She meets the other residents of the house, two batty former actresses and Mr Bobinsky, who claims to be training a mouse circus.

Nearby lives a little boy, Wyborn, whose grandmother owns the house. He brings her a gift, a rag doll he says he found in his house, which looks just like Coraline, with big black buttons for eyes.

One day, it is raining and her father suggests she explore. She finds a little door that has been papered over. Coraline is intrigued. That night, after an unappetising dinner, Coraline finds a way through the door, to a tunnel that leads to a house like hers, but brighter, nicer, and filled with the aroma of a wonderful dinner. In the kitchen is a woman who looks just like Coraline’s mother, except for her smile — and her big black button eyes. Her father is there too, but unlike at home, he is fun. Finally, Coraline goes to sleep in her pretty room (at home, no one has bothered to unpack properly).

She wakes up in her proper house, but returns the next night, to discover that the neighbours are fascinating, Mr Bobinsky’s mouse circus is amazing, and everyone says her name right (in the real world, they all mispronounce it as Caroline).

But she starts to feel uneasy when her “other mother” tells her she has fixed Wyborn so he doesn’t talk. The other mother seems very insistent that Coraline stay, but there is a price — allow her to sew on black button eyes …

There is much to enjoy in this film, from the lovely look of the sets, to the dazzling stop-motion animation (with expressive faces, a huge breakthough), and moments of delicious comedy.

But it might fall into a gulf in terms of audience. A child who is paying attention should be frightened by this story, with its lesson to be careful of what you wish for. What child hasn’t wished their life was more interesting and their parents more engaged? Selick builds a real creepiness, and as Coraline realises just what is at stake, the truth is scary. On the other hand, Coraline triumphs through her own resourcefulness and bravery.

The problem is that with tweens fed a diet of wannabe teenager stories like High School Musical and Hannah Montana, it is hard to see them falling in love with the retro charm of Coraline.


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