Coraline is the first 3-D movie that made me forget I was watching 3-D – and that’s a good thing.
I’ve never been a fan of the gimmicky technology, mainly because it is inherently intrusive. Three-dimensional images invade our personal space, which is the opposite of what you want when watching a movie.
The best films don’t jump out at us; they draw us in. Coraline, miraculously, does both. Watching the picture is an immersive experience. Thanks to the stop-motion animation – which has always seemed multi-dimensional – we’re submerged into the movie’s wildly imaginative world. The 3-D feels like a natural, inherent element.
Coraline comes courtesy of writer-director Henry Selick, who has adapted Neil Gaiman’s novella into something cinematically sinister. Coraline is a young girl who has moved with her parents into an old house that is shared by other tenants. Exploring the various rooms, she discovers a secret door that leads to a weird, mirror-image world.
At heart, Coraline is a classic cautionary children’s fable – an entertaining corrective for general naughtiness. It may be told with state-of-the-art creativity, but it’s as traditionally threatening (and instructive) as Hansel and Gretel, say, or Little Red Riding Hood.
Coraline is sent exploring by her mother and father, both of whom are too busy typing away on their computers to entertain their only child. Through the hidden door, she discovers her Other Mother and Other Father, who look pretty much like her parents (save for the button eyes) and are more than willing to lavish her with attention and cater to her every whim.
She’s invited to stay with them, but could it all be too good to be true?
Coraline is something of a guilt trip for working parents (I’m convinced my own daughters associate typing on the computer with the words, “In a minute”). Yet it also works as a morality play for the kids of those same parents. Sure, we may not be perfect, but at least we don’t want to turn our children into … maybe I shouldn’t give away that part.
If you’ve seen Selick’s other movies – he was the actual director behind Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, as well as James and the Giant Peach and the woefully underrated Monkeybone – then you have some idea of what Coraline offers. Selick specializes in delicate, stop-motion puppetry that is creepy first and cute, well, really never.
Coraline, for example, opens with an ingenious title sequence in which mysterious, skeletal hands unravel a stuffed doll, then refashion it to look like our young hero. More than anything else, the sequence resembles an animal being skinned.
Coraline herself, voiced by Dakota Fanning, is a wonderfully surly creation (according to the production notes, it took 10 people almost four months to construct only one Coraline puppet). With punk blue hair – also seemingly unnoticed by her parents – and a quick scowl, she’s a handful for her mom and dad but also a formidable opponent for her Other Mother when the situation takes a turn for the worse.
And that it does, as the seemingly delightful details of the Other World suddenly turn nefarious. The flowers in the psychedelic garden grow teeth; the beloved Scottish terriers of Coraline’s downstairs neighbors transform into Scottie bats. And Coraline’s Other Mother (voiced by Teri Hatcher) wants nothing more than to get her alone with a pair of buttons, a needle and some thread.
All of this swirls about you in 3-D, yet in the end Coraline doesn’t need the extra dimension to work (which is good, since not all theaters are equipped with the necessary technology). Even on its own, two-dimensional terms, this is an ingenious modern fairy tale about imperfect parents and impatient kids. Know anybody like that?