When it was announced that Henry Selick was developing Nail Gaiman’s wonderful novel Coraline for film, it was probably not something that registered with most moviegoers. If they recognized the name at all, it was most likely from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas – even Burton claims that all he contributed was the basic plot, lead character and a few hasty sketches. Selick did all the heavy lifting.
Coraline is a completely different story. Selick developed the film, both writing the screenplay and directing the film. Here, Selick’s genius becomes clear. He adds a character – the odd little boy named Wybie [voiced by Robert Bailey Jr.] – to add to the stakes, and provide a contrasting character for Coraline [Dakota Fanning]. He also makes a few other tweaks that give the film even more depth than that usually given by stop motion animation. Then he adds really excellent 3-D – not as a gimmick, though there are places where an action does pop toward the audience – but as a means of making Coraline’s unique world just that little bit more unsettling.
The story of Coraline is one of misunderstandings: Coraline’s parents [John Hodgman, Teri Hatcher] seem disconnected from her, disinterested – though they are really trying to make a deadline on a freelance job, producing a catalogue for a client; when Coraline finds her other parents, she really thinks they are genuinely interested in her – though she is merely a diversion for them [especially her Other Mother]; Coraline doesn’t understand Wybie, either, thinking him a pest when he’s really a very lonely boy who has no idea about how to make friends.
Her adventures in both worlds involve other minor players who contribute to the mood: Miss pink [Dawn French] and Miss Forcible [Jennifer Saunders] who appear to have been very naughty in their professional careers, and Mr. Bobinski [Ian McShane], who is an aging Russian acrobat who is trying to train mice as circus performers. These characters give the film world a little extra bite and reality.
Then there’s the cat [Keith David], who is the same in both worlds but can talk in the Other World. Gaiman does a smart-ass cat to perfection and Selick captures him just as well in the film [and doesn’t a good fantasy require a smart-ass cat?].
After taking in the boring for 113 minutes/exciting for 5 minutes so-called thriller, The International, it’s my firm recommendation that Coraline is the best film available for the smart movie buff this weekend, acing out the engaging Confessions of a Shopaholic by a nose.
Final Grade: A