Thursday, March 13, 2014

Film Review: Coraline

"Coraline"  *** (out of ****)

"Be careful what you wish for" was the tagline for the stop-motion animated film "Coraline" (2009). Another tagline could have been don't think the grass is greener on the other side. It is a cautionary tale warning children to appreciate what you have and remember, your parents aren't that bad.

It is actually not a common theme for an animated movie which usually tells kids to dream, seek adventure. Don't settle. Wasn't that the theme of "The Little Mermaid" (1989) and "Beauty and the Beast" (1991)? Ariel and Belle didn't settle. But the heroine of "Coraline", a young, disgruntled, sometimes neglected girl (voiced by Dakota Fanning) learns the importance of "living in the real world".

Coraline and her parents; Mel (voiced by Terri Hatcher) and Charles (voiced by John Hodgman) have moved into a new home. A home we are told by their neighbor, a young boy Coraline's age, Wybie (voiced by Robert Bailey Jr.) that has a mysterious past. Wybie's grandmother and great aunt lived in the home but one day his great aunt went missing. His grandmother mother has wondered ever since what happened to her.

While doing some exploring around her new home Coraline notices a miniature hidden door which has been locked and sealed up. What could be on the other end? And why is the door so small? Coraline finds the key to door and soon discovers the secret of the door.

Just like Alice in "Alice in Wonderland" Coraline follows a creature, in the movie's case it is a jumping mouse, to the door which leads her to another world, a world the exact opposite of her own. A world where her parents (also voiced by Hatcher and Hodgman) pay attention to her, cook her favorite meals and simply seem more fun, except for one thing. They don't have eyes. They have buttons sewn in instead. Coraline is going to have to chose which world she wants to live in.

The movie was directed by Henry Selick who previously gave us "James and the Giant Peach" (1996) and "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993). "Coraline" resembles "Nightmare" in that the movie has an unsettling visual style. The movie is down right creepy and suspenseful. This is not a happy, bright movie, even though it is animated. The movie is a nightmare, a disturbing twist on a child's imagination.

What Coraline learns is her "Other Mother" as she is credited, has lured other children into this world. The Other Mother preys on unhappy children. Children that feel neglected and keeps them in this place. But in order to do so, she must remove their eyes and replace them with buttons. This Other Mother doesn't want Coraline to leave. At first because she says she loves Coraline and later because Coraline finds out the truth.

"Coraline" is not for small children. I'd say at least 10 and up. Younger children may be put off by the movie and find certain parts scary. Others may just not like it because Coraline is not your typical character. She is not Alice, a sweet young girl who also doesn't like the real world and enjoys games. Coraline has a bit of an attitude. She talks back. She is at the awkward stage in her life where she is still a child but wants to be treated like an adult by her parents, yet still depends on them. She is not a Disney princess.

Still I'm recommending the movie. It is suspenseful. It is off-beat. The animation is interesting to look it. The imagination of the animators and director Selick is truly unique. And the voice over work is good. I also like its more realistic message.

The movie was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe in the best animated feature film category. It lost both times to the Disney/Pixar film "Up" (2009), a movie with a much sweeter message which told us to live life as if it were an adventure and not to give up on our dreams.