MOVIE REVIEW ★★★ ½ Only for the Brave Children

Coraline Is an Animated Scare… and Success


Written and Directed by Henry Selick


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If I were a young child, I do not think that I would have been able to watch the entirety of Coraline without screaming my head off. The genius of the stop-motion 3D film is its ability to transcend age barriers.

The film is based on Neil Gaiman’s novella Coraline. It is unclear whether or not it really was a children’s novella. Although I first discovered Coraline in the children’s section, I was quite sure that it was a bit too heavy and horrific for some of the younger readers after I read it. Even in the film adaptation, which is animated and whose characters have decidedly exaggerated features, the themes are dark and remarkably mature for its supposed target audience.

The plot line centers on a precocious and outspoken young girl named Coraline. Her pet peeves include the rain and people mistakenly calling her “Caroline” instead of “Coraline.” Unfortunately for her, after moving to Oregon with her parents, the precipitation only increases and her only companions are her elderly, loony neighbors.

The film’s initial color scheme, a drab non-committal grey, reflects Coraline’s initial mood. Her world is best characterized as boring. Her parents, loving but work-obsessed garden catalogue writers, are nice enough but seem to have no capabilities beyond sitting in front of the computer.

Coraline’s adventures begin when her mother, fed up with the twelve-year-old’s pestering, discovers a peculiar door. During the day, the door is bricked up, much to Coraline’s disappointment but during the night, Coraline discovers that the door leads to a fantastic world splashed in color and delights.

This world parallels Coraline’s own — in it she finds her mother (who insists on calling herself the Other Mother), her father, and even her house, but everything is tailored to her desires. The chillingly creepy difference is that everything in the world has shiny black buttons for eyes. When Coraline realizes that perhaps the alternate universe is not as lovely as she initially thought it was, her journey through perilous challenges begins.

A large factor of the film’s success lies in the way it was filmed. The visionary director, Henry Selick, is best known for the cult classic The Nightmare Before Christmas. Stop-motion animation brought to the film part of its realism. Stop-motion involves the construction of many figures that are moved by small amounts between photograph frames.

In the case of Coraline, the sculptors were able to utilize current technology and 3D printers to expedite the process and provide rapid prototypes. This resulted in a wider variety of facial expressions on the puppets and less jerky movements. Twenty months of production, thirty animators, and fifty separate miniature sets were created for the sake of the film. Everything was shot on a tiny scale, but everything in the film had to be created by hand before it was shot. The 3D effects that went into the final production also brought an element of depth to the film that differentiated it from other animated films.

The whole film is definitely a visionary treat and harkens to the kid in us. Though a horror film at first glance, it reveals itself to be a traditional appraisal of virtue and determination when it is peeled apart. It is definitely worth the money — if you want to be pulled into another world for two hours.