guppy's film reviews

Sunday, February 08, 2009


Year: 2009
Director: Henry Selick
Notable Actors: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher (voice actors)
Score: A-
Summary: Very good if imperfect twisted not-really-for-kids story.

Coraline is an animated stop-motion film based on a Neil Gaiman book of the same name. Basic premise: little girl Coraline Jones (Fanning) has just moved to a new town -- I don't recall ever hearing it specified -- from Michigan and isn't happy. She doesn't like her new town or her new house, her mother and father (Hatcher and John Hodgman respectively) or the only other kid in the neighborhood. But hidden in the house she finds an entrance to a mirror world, with far superior duplicates of everything and everyone, including her parents, although she's a bit perturbed at how everyone there has buttons for eyes.

One can't help but compare Coraline to The Nightmare Before Christmas -- they're both stop-motion and both are directed by Henry Selick. I find Coraline substantially more cohesive, and as fondly as I remember Nightmare, I'm happier without most of the musical numbers. The animation is also much smoother, as the technology and techniques have advanced substantially since then.

Generally speaking, I feel very positively about the movie. I'm a big fan of stories of this nature -- the sort that appear at first blush to be kids' films, but are actually quite dark. The voice acting is very good and the characters are well-defined. I particularly like that Coraline isn't saccharine-sweet -- she basically means well, but she's not without her rough edges.

I thought the film's length was perfect, but its pacing could have been better. I'm not sure it's possible to correct the pacing issues without negatively affecting its length, however. At 101 minutes, it felt perfect. I never felt bored or found myself fidgeting. That said, the rising action could have stood a little more drawing out. There's nothing wrong with what's there, but I went to see a twisted story, and I'd have like a bit more twist. It happens a little too quickly for my taste. I'd reiterate, though, that what's there is quite well done. Similarly, the dénouement is a bit too pat, although it's hard to explain why without plot revelations.

I also take issue with the revelation of a major plot point. The plot point itself is perfect, important and well-suited. But the way it's revealed doesn't make much sense, and the dialogue for the scene is poorly-written.

I do want to emphasize that this one isn't really for young kids. It's animated, yes, but it's got several scenes that are pretty much made of nightmares as far as children are concerned.

Coraline's strengths outweigh its weaknesses by a pretty significant margin. Go see it if you like Neil Gaiman, dark stories or skilled animation. Give it a miss if you actively dislike morbidity.