Last month, my brother Adam treated me to a showing of Coraline at one of those last round cheap seat cinemas (you know, the ones where the show movies before they send the film rolls to places like Bolivia). I had intended to see the stop motion animated film directed by Henry Selick when it came out in February, but I never got around to do so. Based on the book by Neil Gaiman, Coraline has a Burtonesque feel—which led many people, The Chicago Tribune and myself included, into thinking that it was directed or at least produced by Tim Burton. As the Tribune points out, the only production connection between Burton and the movie is that Selick and Burton worked together on The Nightmare before Christmas. Nonetheless, the formal resemblance is strong; if you appreciate Burton, you will like Coraline.
I had to enjoy this film. It is written and directed by Selick (who also did James and the Giant Peach), it has a wonderful voice acting cast, including Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Teri Hatcher, Ian McShane, and Dakota Fanning, and it features a song by They Might Be Giants. I did not know that beforehand, but as soon as the “Other Father Song” began to play, I knew that John and John were behind it. I consequently bounced in my seat and jabbed Adam to let him know, much to the disturbance of all.
Coraline is beautifully made, charming, and somewhat humorous. Like other Burtonesque films, it threads the delightfully macabre through surprising, imaginary stitches. The imagery of the “other world” is wonderful, especially in its contrast before and after it unravels as Coraline, in lovely Grimm fashion, comes to understand that most things that seem to good to be true are not true. There is always a dreadful price for satiating our appetites.
If you wonder how an animated film merited a PG-13 warning, let me just say that you get to see French and Saunders au paranaturel. It is pretty funny, and you just have to see it for yourself.
My only complaint about the story is that it felt very rushed at the end. Until Coraline returns to her “other world” to free her family and friends, I think that the movie is perfect. Indeed, as she crawls through the tunnel to face her challenge, I momentarily escaped my absorption in the film to reflect on how good of a flick it was. However, the dénouement occurs too quickly and with too much ease, and this imbalance affects the film for the worse. Nonetheless, it is a fun movie, and I heartily recommend it.