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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews Coraline (2009)

January 4th, 2010
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I missed Coraline in theatres when it was released back in February of 2009, so I was thrilled to finally have a chance to watch this wonderful film on DVD last month.

Adapted from a novel by Neil Gaiman (a legend among comic-book fans for his beautiful series The Sandman), Coraline is the story of a precocious, lonely little girl named (you guessed it) Coraline.  She and her parents move into a new house, and the energetic and creative girl is soon left to her own devices as her parents busy themselves with their work and the business of setting up a new home.  Her parents are not the over-the-top hateful, neglectful sort that one sometimes finds in children’s fantasy films, but both seem overworked and overtired, and are unable to give Coraline the attention she craves.

Things seem to change for Coraline when she discovers a tiny secret door in her room that leaves her into a parallel world filled with happier doppelgangers of everyone in her life.  Her “other-mother” and “other-father” are cheerful and incredibly attentive to Coraline’s desires, cooking her enormous delicious meals and putting her to sleep in a beautifully decorated bedroom.  True, the buttons that these “other-folk” seem to have instead of eyes are weird, but so what?

You can probably guess that this idyllic other-world has a scary dark-side hidden not-too-far underneath all the wonder, and soon Coraline must use all of her wits to save herself and her family.

Coraline is a jaw-dropping, gorgeous wonder of stop-motion animation.  The fantasy tone with an undertone of great creepiness brings to mind Tim Burton’s exercises in this genre (The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride), but Coraline has a look and style all its own.  Co-writer and director Henry Selick and his talented team of artists and technicians have brought every tiny detail of this world to life, and they quickly prove as capable of capturing the loneliness of an empty, old house as they are at the fantastic merriment of a performance of circus mice in the other-world that beguiles Coraline (at least temporarily).  Each frame of this film is stuffed-to-overflowing with glorious eye-candy.  But I am happy to report that the “just how did they do that?” wonderment of this life-long animation fan quickly faded into the background as I stopped thinking about the technical aspects of the film and just found myself swept along in the ride.

The voice-cast acquits themselves well.  There are some famous names in the mix (Dakota Fanning voices Coraline, Teri Hatcher is her mother and John Hodgman is her father) but no one overshadows the material.  Each actor is a fine fit with his/her character.  In particular, Datoka Fanning does a terrific job in bringing Coraline to life, and embodying this heroine with a spirit that is uniquely her own.  I must say that I also really enjoyed Ian McShane as Coraline’s enigmatic upstairs neighbor, the Russian acrobat Sergei Alexander Bobinsky.

There is enough humor and psychological sophistication in Coraline to make it thoroughly enjoyable for adults, while also being fantastic and scary enough to be quite engaging for kids.  That is a tough balance to find in an “all ages” film not bearing the Pixar logo.  I feel like Coraline was a bit overlooked this year.  Having seen it now, I’m surprised that I didn’t read more praise of this fine film when it was released at the beginning of the year.  Coraline is a delightful and unique creation, and it is well-worth your time.

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