Monday, March 2, 2009

A Frank Review of "Coraline" (2009)

The Short Version? Girl goes through the looking glass; finds wonders and terrors.
What Is It? Family Horror Adventure.
Who's In It? Famous voices and lovely armatures.
Should I See It? Yes.

Let me just start by saying Coraline is one of the finest stop motion features I've ever seen, both in terms of story and animation. It was so fluid, in fact, that I initially assumed I was only watching CGI mimicking clay. I'll follow by adding that as much as I love the process, most full-length stop-motion spectacles leave me cold (yes, even The Nightmare Before Christmas.) Not only was Coraline an outstanding exception under normal circumstances, but I was especially blessed to catch the experience in 3D. There's another process that has improved by leaps and bounds, though there was a moment or two where the mass of details spinning in different dimensions tripped up my poor, weak eyes.

As in Pan's Labyrinth, we have a precocious girl escaping reality into a fantasy world that leads her to surprisingly scary territory. Unlike Ofelia in Pan's, Coraline has an engaging personality that overcomes her sometimes unpleasant attitude. Also, Coraline is truly a fantasy film with an effective spookiness, where Pan's was a period drama bait-and-switch. If you couldn't tell, I'm trying to say I preferred Coraline to Guillermo del Toro's art house favorite. Just to salt the wound, I'll added that Coraline will please young and old, as there's plenty enough meat on its bones without resorting to actual bloodshed, and entertainment value to sustain anyone who sees it.

Dakota Fanning provides the voice for the heroine, both far more believable and intelligent than what one typically expects from this fare. Robert Bailey Jr. is solid as Coraline's sort-of friend Wybie, but my girlfriend only fell for his silent version in the "other" place. Teri Hatcher as Coraline's mother is fine, while her Other Mother could join the likes of Cruella de Vil and the Wicked Witch of the West in unforgettable villainess territory. Keith David as the cat steals every second of screen time in which his voice is present. Ian McShane and Absolutely Fabulous' French & Saunders have small but amusing parts.

As I've mentioned, Coraline is a treat for all, even with the surprisingly creepy elements that fill the third act. While those are great, there are some problems in between the scares. A game of great consequence is played with unexplained rules, and there's a lapse in time toward the end that doesn't make much sense. The resolution is also a bit too neat, with the resolution to Coraline's issues going into her journey left unaddressed in a satisfying manner. Still, the film is such a treat for all the senses, not least of which the brains they run to, rarely left so nourished by "kiddie" movies.

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