Wednesday, October 07, 2009

“So sharp you won’t feel a thing…”

Stop-motion animation. The words carry an image of patient, arcane practitioners of a forgotten form of cinema voodoo laboring away in dusty and hidden workshops. The frightening thing is that it may not be that farfetched of an assessment, considering how out of fashion stop-motion is these days. Regardless, the current huongan of the medium is Henry Selick, the director responsible for pretty much any stop-motion film worth notice since the early 1990s. His latest work, 2009’s Coraline is a dark and gothic adaptation of a dark and gothic novella by gothic and British novelist Neil Gaiman. IN 3-D!

A young girl and her family move into a strange house (the Pink Palace). Her parents, both writers for some kind of gardening magazine, don’t have time for her at the moment, and she goes exploring. Finding a mysterious door that on the surface leads to a brick wall, at night it’s a doorway to the Other House, where Other versions of her parents and neighbors offer a seemingly better life. The only catch is that she would have to sew buttons where her eyes are.

Coraline Jones: Dakota Fanning does a great job of making Coraline a multi-dimensional character. By no means is she a goodie-two shoes, but she’s also a pretty decent human being as well. Coraline’s also a smart girl and actively works her way toward overcoming the peril, which is nice. Overall a great character.

Mel Jones/Mom: Teri Hatcher plays Coraline’s normal mother, a rather frumpy, tired and busy woman.

The Other Mother/Beldam: Teri Hatcher also plays the Other Mother, who is bright and cheerful in a bright and cheerful world where everyone has buttons instead of eyes. She’s actually a sinister creature called a beldam, and she’s anything but trustworthy. A fantastic villain.

Charlie Jones: John Hodgeman (the “I’m a PC” guy from those condescending as hell Apple commercials) voices Coraline’s tired and busy dad.

The Other Father: John Hodgman again, as the interminably cheerful Other Father.

Wyborne Lovat: Robert Bailey Jr. voices a character created for the movie. Wybie’s the grandson of the old woman who owns the Pink Palace. Wybie’s a slightly odd kid, who’s rides around on a bike wearing a welding mask with a skull painted on. He becomes a sort-of sidekick for Coraline, and there’s even an Other Wybie who doesn’t talk that helps Coraline out.

Miss April Spink and Miss Miriam Forcible: Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French respectively (from British comedy duo “French & Saunders”) voice two old, retired, slightly addled vaudeville-style performers that befriend Coraline and eventually give her a useful item. The Other versions of them are younger and play to an autitorium filled with terriers. Sinister terriers.

Sergei Bobinski: Ian McShane voices the beet loving, mouse circus training neighbor. Mom thinks he’s just a drunk, but Coraline gets a warning from his mice telling her she’s in danger. Other Bobinski gets…weird.

The Cat: Keith David (who’s made a living voicing badass characters like Goliath on Gargoyles) voices the Cat, a rather mangy black feline that can wander freely between both worlds. Sarcastic and proud, the Cat becomes Coraline’s only real ally in the Other world. Its hard to explain why, exactly, but the Cat is the most badass character in the movie.

Henry Selick has crafted a visual masterpiece. Everything, and I mean everything was done in stop-motion, and the film looks incredible in both 3 and 2-D. Colors are lavish and the animation is incredibly polished. If there were flaws with it, I’d have more to say here. Instead, I’m just in awe of things.

The book by Neil Gaiman is a fantastic piece of dark and whimsical fantasy, and the screenplay by Selick stays true to that: equal parts dark and whimsical. Dialog is great and the characters well-defined. There is one little side gag that takes place when Coraline and her mother go into town about some sort of Shakespeare Festival. It’s not a bad little side gag, but I’m not entirely sure why its in the movie.

The score by Bruno Coulais is absolutely fantastic for matching the otherworldly mood of the film. There’s also a brief song when the Other Father is introduced performed by They Might Be Giants which is a great little number too.

Coraline is an absolutely fantastic and fantastical film. While ostensibly geared toward younger audiences, nothing is dumbed down or over-simplified. The stakes are serious and the atmosphere is perfect. Absolutely recommended.

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