Skip to content Coraline (2009)

bilde.jpegJanelle and I saw Coraline on Friday, but my reaction was conflicted enough that I needed a couple of days to process my thoughts.

One of my biggest cinematic pet peeves is that Tim Burton gets so much of the credit for Nightmare Before Christmas, which was written by other people and directed by Coraline director Henry Selick. Hopefully, with Coraline, Selick will start to get more appreciation, because it really is a brilliant piece of work.

Coraline is a 3-D stop-motion dark fairy tale based on a novel by the great Neil Gaiman. I haven’t read this novel, but I like everything I’ve ever read from him. The eponymous Coraline is a snarky girl, neglected by her parents, and stuck in an ancient rooming house in what looks like the middle of the Pacific Northwest wilderness. Finding a mysterious hidden doorway, she travels to a mirror-image of her life, where the apartment building is filled with wonders and her Other Mother and Other Father are waiting to dote on her. The only problem is, everyone here has black buttons sewn onto their eyes…

I love stop-motion animation. The intricacy and vividness is captivating, even more than CGI. Coraline probably has the best stop-motion I’ve ever seen. The motion is fluid, but not as perfect as CGI. Maybe I’m alone here, but I think seeing a hint of the figurative seams (in the way water is animated, for instance) makes animation more real, not less. Especially seen in 3D, this film has some absolutely breathtaking moments, even though wearing the 3D glasses over my regular glasses lead to a little eyestrain by the end. And my God, this movie has mood — long before we meet the button-eyed Other Mother, there’s an ominousness to Coraline’s adventures.

But the screenplay seemed really lopsided — a little too slow and exposition-y at the beginning, and then rushed at the end as Coraline has to deal with a series of puzzles and obstacles. In fact, during the last 30 minutes, I couldn’t help but think of old-school hunt-and-click computer adventure games (“You have found two of the three lost eyes! Find the last one to open the door!”). And yes, I know the reason for this is that both the movie and the old games were inspired by similar source material. It’s still distracting. Which is all really strange, because while I don’t think Neil Gaiman is a master of dialogue this kind of storytelling is his bread and butter. (The Sandman story where Lucifer abandons hell and all the gods and angels have to deal with it is one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read.) I’m really curious to see how it’s handled in the original novel.

So in the end, I didn’t love Coraline as much as I’d hoped I would. Maybe in my second viewing, I’ll be able to just ignore the story and enjoy the brilliantly imaginative world the movie lets us into. But for now, I find it oddly unsatisfying.