Combined Rating: 2/5
This was my pick, but because Halloween is Frank’s favorite holiday, the entire month is pretty much devoted to Halloween-themed films. That was my restriction. I chose this one when I saw that a) it was animated (therefore it wasn’t likely to be terribly scary, right?), and b) it was about crossing over into an alternate dimension, which seemed different. Not your usual type of Halloween story. I should have thought better of it when I realized that it was based on a book by Neil Gaiman—he’s brilliant, but I don’t read his work anymore because he’s very dark. There are some scenes from his books that are now permanently etched in my imagination; I can’t un-read them, though I wish I could. But “Coraline” was a kid’s film; how creepy could it be? Be forewarned: very. In my opinion, not a kid’s film at all. It was barely even a “me” film.
Coraline’s family moves into an old leaky house in the middle of nowhere. She’s an only child and her parents are busy with work, and just want her to leave them alone. She’s dissatisfied with her life, and runs into a quirky, awkward neighbor boy whose mannerisms remind me intensely of Eddie Redmayne in nearly every one of his performances. The boy’s grandmother told him that Coraline’s house is cursed. Then she discovers a doll that looks exactly like her, except it has buttons for eyes. (Mimicry, dolls, and eye manipulation put creepy factor around 3/10 at this point.) At night she finds a portal into an alternate universe in which her parents are everything she could ever hope for—except that there, they too have buttons for eyes. (Creepy factor now: 6/10). When Coraline goes back to her real world and finds all the same as ever, she longs for her alternate parents. They spring it on her that she can stay… but only if she, too, swaps out her eyes for buttons. (Creepy factor now: 8/10). Soon her “other” mom sheds her mom-like exterior, and reveals her nefarious history: we find out that she’s done this to many other kids over the years. Spoiler alert: fake mom kidnaps Coraline’s real parents, and she has to strike a bargain to find the other kids’ lost eyes as well as her parents’ magical prison to free them. If she loses, fake mom will condemn her forever to her alternate reality. (Creepy factor now: 9+/10. Entering nightmare territory.)
Meanwhile, as the core storyline unwinds, a number of seemingly unrelated and relatively unimportant caricatures enter the story. One of them is an extremely buxom elderly woman who appears in an excessively skimpy string bikini, at which point I thought, yep, seems like a Gaiman novel—though why they decided to include that in a kid’s film, I have no idea. Then there were theatrical performances in which the entire audience consisted of rats… the whole thing just felt a little like the screenplay writers were on something. Yet the ratings for the film were fantastic. I cannot account for this, except to say that if the audience hoped to be disturbed, they were not disappointed.
Although I’ve largely moved on from animated films, every now and then my interest will be piqued by a new technique, or original story-line, that transcends the typically banal genre. Not only would Coraline be based on a Neil Gaiman novella, but it would feature painstaking stop-motion animation techniques (which I love), blended with computer aided design and 3D models to tell the story of a young girl who travels back and forth between her boring reality and a parallel, fantastical and sinister world that uncannily imitates it, designed to ensnare her. The final result was a gorgeous canvass of modern artistry that still felt old-school and reminiscent of a bygone era of craft animation.
Coraline, to its credit, is definitely not for kids…so much so that my wife and her mother were both rather freaked out by it. I just found it intriguingly weird. Many of the demented scenarios were visualized from the pages of Gaiman’s story by a director (Henry Selick) who undoubtedly worked closely with the author to translate his original vision. It was Gaiman who initially approached Selick to commit his story to the screen, after having seen what Selick did with A Nightmare Before Christmas, which has since become both a Halloween and Christmas classic. How many movies can claim that?
The message of the film has the potential to resonate well with more mature, yet self-centered children who may not always value or appreciate their well-intentioned, yet aloof, parents. Children have a tendency to take their parents for granted, not fully realizing what less desirable alternatives may exist. Through her experience, Coraline, with the help of her new friends, comes to realize her good fortune, culminating in her new found motivation to rescue her real parents from the evil “Beldam,” when the parallel universes uncomfortably collide. Coraline, despite its engrossing visuals, would have futilly wasted the talents of 450 animators if not for the enthralling climax and ultimate morality it successfully conveys. As such, the film will resonate in a way so many other modern cartoon-films do not…stuffing quasi-adult themes into intentionally misleading packaging that will catch viewers, and more importantly, children growing up too fast, by surprise.
Meal pairing: Beef stew with carrots, celery, and Yukon gold potatoes, and a mug of Oktoberfest