Coraline (Focus Features, PG)

film_coraline_sm.jpgCoraline feels like a low-rent 3-D cash-in, instead of the very labor-intensive work that it actually is.







I get frustrated with people who love Tim Burton but don’t know who Henry Selick is. Selick is the guy who actually directed The Nightmare Before Christmas, whereas pretty much everyone in the world thinks Burton did. Selick is a genius-level stop-motion animator, but due to a name brand-related dupe on Disney’s part, his name doesn’t draw people to see his movies (look what happened with his James & the Giant Peach back in 1996). This time around, Selick both directed and adapted for the screen Neil Gaiman’s chapter book Coraline, and I’m willing to bet that Gaiman’s going to steal the potential for Selick getting brand recognition this time around (especially after that Newberry Award he just won for his newest chapter book, The Graveyard Book). Actually, I’d be willing to bet that a lot of people will still think this is a Burton joint, as it looks and feels like one, though he had nothing to do with it this time around; that or they’ll think Selick is ripping off Burton outright, though he is doing nothing of the sort.

Coraline is about a young goth girl (voiced by Dakota Fanning) who moves into a creepy old house and with her crappy, distant parents, only to discover a Malkovich portal into Bizarro World (or maybe through the looking glass); more specifically, the portal leads to a duplicate creepy old house, but this one is maintained by her "Other Mother" and "Other Father," who are much more loving and attentive than Coraline’s real mother and father in all of the ways that Coraline has always wanted her parents to be. Of course Coraline wants to stay with the loving and attentive Other family, but she alternatingly either wakes up in the normal old house or learns of creepy motivations on the Other family’s part.

I read the book version of Coraline when it first was released several years ago, and was not terribly impressed with it at the time. Seeing the movie I was able to get much more into the story than I was with the book, but I’m distressed to say that I was rather put off by the animation. Coraline is apparently the first stop-motion film to be made in stereoscopic 3-D, but the effect detracts from how great Selick’s animation is in the first place—the whole thing has a low-rent digital feel to it, rather than Selick’s old tactile action figure-y feel that I have known and loved and been deeply impressed by for years. As it stands, Coraline feels like a low-rent 3-D cash-in, instead of the very labor-intensive work that it actually is. I’m not opposed the recent boom in 3-D animation that the film industry has seen, but it just doesn’t work well here.

That isn’t to say that Coraline is altogether bad or a waste of time; it’s more that it is an okay film where I expected it to be a very good one. | Pete Timmermann

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