Coraline – Review

Clay: the stuff dreams and nightmares are made of.

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Director: Henry Selick

Notable Cast: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Keith David, John Hodgman, Robert Bailey Jr., Ian McShane

There is no more mistaking who the real genius behind Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas was. Though his name wasn’t plastered all over the cult favorite, Henry Selick played a huge hand in giving the film its eerie vibe and beautiful imagery. With Coraline Selick’s trifecta (director, writer, and producer) allows him to go all out and let his animation tell the story.

Of course, Selick benefits from great source material by fellow weirdo cum Alice in Wonderland fetishist, Neil Gaiman of Stardust and MirrorMask semi-fame. Gaiman’s story about a young girl who is coping with loneliness after moving to a new home with her parents has all the favorite short-hands from the Carroll classic: a secret doorway to another world far more fantastical than Coraline’s own, a morally ambiguous cat that helps her along the way, as well as a menagerie of eccentric characters and creatures.

While the story in Coraline is the standard girl coming-of-age allegory, Gaiman and Selick add their own macabre twist to it that makes the film both mystifying and terrifying. Coraline’s initial visits to the Other World are like a dream come true; one in which her parents pay attention to her and the kooky neighbors put on amazing spectacles for her viewing pleasure. It is seems like the kind of place she might like to live in: a world in which she is at the center.

Soon Caroline learns the secret behind the wonders of the Other World. All the things she loves about that world only exist to entice her to live there forever and, ultimately, give up her love to the Other Mother, a creature that feeds off the souls of children and the creator of the Other World. Coraline’s fight to keep her soul is decidedly not kid-friendly which makes the movie all the more impressive.

The most inspired movies are always the ones that use a certain genre or medium to showcase their story for an audience that is not typically associated with said genre or medium. Animation has been struggling for years to be more than family fare and movies such as Coraline are great examples of how the medium can be more than talking animals and kids’ meal toys.

Because for as much praise as a film such as WALL-E receives it is still made for and marketed to children. Granted Coraline falls into similar advertising traps hopefully people will notice that it looks like a Tool video with a larger color palette and recognize it for its dark tone. The film is already receiving praise for its bold vision and going against the grain, which it does, there is no denying it is a extraordinary piece of art. But I think it would be near perfect if it had the courage to see its vision all the way through and break down the barrier the keeps in its sanitized demographic friendly world.

While Coraline plays at the absolute edge of what could be considered material for all ages, it would be remarkable to see what Selick, Gaiman, and company could have done if they were allowed to let their imaginations run totally free. As it is Coraline represents the closest embodiment of a dream I have ever seen. Call me greedy, but I want to see more of the Other World beyond the confines of Coraline’s familiar stomping grounds.