When Henry Selick’s film “Coraline” ends, I’m certain I’ve just woken from the most exquisite dream. As the credits roll and the music strikes up, I can’t help but feel as if I had a glimpse of something mesmerizing, magical, adventurous and enjoyably creepy. Going into the film I had high expectations, especially considering that “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is still one of my favorite films, but “Coraline” managed to exceed my high expectations.
So just who is Coraline? Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning) is a blue haired girl with an adventurous spirit. She and her parents just moved from Michigan into a place called the Pink Palace Apartments. Resting atop a hill and beneath a stunning landscape, The Pink Palace is unlike any apartment I’ve ever seen; it’s a pink Victorian house that was divided into several apartments with a slew of amusing characters living within.
Some of the characters include two older actresses (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French) who live in the basement and an eccentric acrobat, Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane) who lives in the attic apartment. Of course, Coraline isn’t so quick to see the potential of her new home and neighbors. She misses her friends and her parents are far too busy writing a gardening catalog to stop and give Coraline any real attention. Coraline’s father (John Hodgman) tells her to make a list of everything she sees in the house as a way of exploring it further, and as a way of getting her off his back so he can finish his work. Coraline jots down the things that displease her, like uninspired paintings and bugs in the bathroom.
After first arriving she meets one of her neighbors named Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.) and a mysterious black cat (Keith David). Wybie follows Coraline around, much to her annoyance. His grandmother owns the Pink Palace and usually doesn’t allow children to live on the premises (including Wybie). Coraline takes little notice of Wybie’s warnings that the house is mysterious, that is until he leaves her a doll that he found in his grandmother’s car. Oddly, the doll looks exactly like Coraline, with one exception: button eyes. As Coraline roams her new home making notes, the doll mysteriously moves across the room. When Coraline goes to fetch the doll she notices the outline of a small door in the wall and hidden beneath wallpaper. When her mother (Teri Hatcher) unlocks the door there’s nothing but a brick wall behind it.
Of course, a brick wall in this kind of enchanting film doesn’t stay brick forever. At night when Coraline goes downstairs to open it once more, there’s a long tunnel leading way to another door. On the other end of that door is a world that looks almost exactly like her own. Things that Coraline noted as unpleasant have changed, but everything else is the same. And then there are Coraline’s parents, or I should say her “other parents” (also voiced by Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman).
There within this other world is Coraline’s “other mother”. At first she is everything Coraline could hope for: she cooks, which Coraline wishes her mother would, and she likes to play games, which Coraline’s mother never has the time. At first, the only noticeable difference between her “other mother”, as well as her “other father” are their button eyes. Things quickly change though in the other world, and the mood shifts and the story grows eerie and adventurous towards the end. When Coraline is given all the things she ever wanted in the other world, she begins to see the sacrifice she had to make in order to obtain them. Despite having her parents, neighbors and house become what she dreamed they could, Coraline must make that choice between the good realty and the illusion of good in a not-so-perfect alternate realty.
“Coraline” is a marvelous mix between a surreal dream and something from a fairytale. The characters are incredibly rich and the story is enthralling the whole way through. From the mysterious “other mother” trying to keep her forever, to the mysterious black cat who can speak to Coraline, to a group of lost ghost children lured by the “other mother” in the past, as well as an array of interesting characters and imaginative circumstances, “Coraline” proves to be a wonderful film the whole way through.
The voice work is engaging and offers great range, and the music in the film is perfect - it literally gives you goose bumps. Of course, besides the story, the real star of “Coraline” is the stop-motion animation. It’s something I respect to the fullest. The amount of time, patience and care that must go into stop-motion is awe inspiring. And the animation here is beautiful and has such fluidity to the movements. With a wonderful color palette and spectacular details, the stop-motion here is phenomenal and some of the best I’ve ever seen. Truly, this film is so incredibly engaging that you can’t help but be glad that minds like Henry Selick and Neil Gaiman (wrote the book, “Coraline” as well as “Stardust” ) exist to tell such inspired stories.
VIDEO: Universal presents Coraline in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen (in 2-D & 3-D.) This is a lovely transfer that certainly does justice to the film's beautiful animation. Sharpness and detail are superb, as the picture looked consistently bright, crisp and well-defined. A couple of slight instances of artifacting were spotted, but the film otherwise looked pristine, with no additional concerns. Colors varied, appearing warm and rich in some scenes and subdued in others - however, the film's varying color palette looked accurately presented, with no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation maybe isn't quite as active as I'd hoped for, given the material, but is still quite entertaining, nonetheless. Surrounds offer up mild sound effects and enjoyable levels of ambience, as well. Audio quality remained terrific, with a full, rich score and crisp, clear dialogue.
EXTRAS: (on the 2-D and 3-D version)
Feature Commentary with Director Henry Selick and Composer Bruno Coulais - Henry Selick starts the commentary with a great deal of information that is presented in a way that’s accessible and fascinating at the same time. One thing that he starts by saying is that “Coraline” didn’t start out as a stop-motion film, which watching it now seems so hard to imagine it any other way. Selick offer so much insight and thought that this commentary that is definitely worth listening to. Coulais offers commentary during the end credits.
(on the 2-Disc Collector’s Edition)
With an amusing editing style and a look at several moments that didn’t make it into the film, this feature is definitely worth a watch - if only for the amount of work that goes into every scene they make.
“The Making of Coraline”
Broken down into 10 sections (with a play all option), this feature focuses on everything from “The Evolution of the Story”, “Inspiring Design: Character Design and Art Direction”, “Directing the Voice Sessions”, “Making Puppets”, “Coraline’s Closet”, “Setting the Stage: How Does Your Fantastic Garden Grow?”, “It’s Alive”, “I’ve Seen Fire and I’ve Seen Fog”, “The Eyes Have It”, and “Wrapping Up Coraline”. To see the making of the puppets and creating the sets is incredible to watch. At around 35 minutes there’s a wonderful amount of information, interviews, and behind the scenes action to interest fans.
“Voicing the Characters”
With lots of footage of the cast recording their parts and sharing their thoughts about being a part of “Coraline”, this is an interesting and fun feature. Especially the moments with Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, especially since Henry Selick ended up switching their parts. Lots of fun and worth a watch.
Final Thoughts: Henry Selick has created another magical film with “Coraline”. While some moments may be scary to younger children, “Coraline” is a rich story with amazing animation, interesting characters and a creepy villain for the likeable main character to overcome. “Coraline” is the kind of film you literally want to step into, look around, and explore. Recommended.
The Film B+