Coraline film review: sparklingly spookish stop motion
Macabre visual inventions a-plenty litter the Henry Selick-directed stop motion animated strange-fest Coraline, which mingles a story about a child rebelling against her parents with a cautionary grass-is-greener message about the seemingly idyllic life on that other side of the fence. Or in this case, in the house next door connected by a tiny magical passageway. The film’s visual makeup starts off looking slightly sinister and left-of-centre then progresses to downright eerie, a ghoulish graveyard aesthetic littered with an agglomeration of otherworldly things that pop out at you (especially if you see the 3D version). The story (adapted from a book by Neil Gaiman) follows Coraline (voice of Dakota Fanning), a bored young girl who moves into a new house and neighbourhood with her parents, two dull as ditchwater writers who spend their days banging away at their magnum opus: a gardening catalogue. Coraline discovers a small Being John Malkovich-esque doorway that leads her to an alternate universe where the rundown house is now immaculate, the food is delicious, the neighbours are nonstop merrymakers and where…everybody has buttons instead of eyes (cue analogy about seeing the important things in life etc). This parallel world gradually shifts from a utopian refuge to a Kafkaesque hell as it becomes clear that horrible things must be undertaken in order to stay there. It’s a slight and nifty premise, derivatively stretched out by Selick with plenty o’ padding. Coraline has a muddled target demographic and it’s not certain who the film is intended for: the first half will be a little too kiddy for most adults, the second too creepy for most children, but in this age of Happy Meal promos and crudely clear-cut marketing campaigns that’s not entirely a bad thing. The screenplay is light on story and you can sense the essential plot pivots coming well before they arrive, but the film’s technical makeup provides an atmospheric buzz that carries it with dark, caliginous eye-bulging beauty across the line. DOP is the fabulous Pete Kozachik (he also shot The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride and James and the Giant Peach) who is Hollywood’s go-to guy for fantastical Burton-esque stop motion. 2009 has been a fine year for fans of this painstaking form of animation, with Adam Elliot’s Mary and Max leading the way to $9.99 and Coraline. They’re all well worth a look.
Coraline’s Australian theatrical release date: August 6, 2009