Directed and Written by Henry Selick
A young girl stumbles upon a beautiful and bright parallel world behind a secret door in her new home, only to learn that things are not as good there as they seem. Now she must not only save herself but her parents from an evil witch.
Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is an adventurous young girl who is absolutely miserable in her new town. Her parents, Mel (voiced by Teri Hatcher) and Charlie (voiced by John Hodgman), are more wrapped up in their gardening catalogue than they are in how their daughter is doing which makes her susceptible to Other Mother (also voiced by Teri Hatcher).
The story is populated with quirky characters. April (voiced by Jennifer Saunders) and Miriam (voiced by Dawn French) are two former burlesque performers. Wybie (voiced by Robert Bailey Jr.) is the grandson of the building’s owner who has a connection to the goings on there. Mr. Bobinsky (voiced by Ian McShane) is training circus mice that apparently talk to him. These actors also voiced their counterparts in the Other World.
I do wish the rivalry between Other Mother and The Cat (voiced by Keith David), a nameless neighborhood feline that is a persistent thorn for Other Mother, was played up a bit more. I am unfamiliar with the Neil Gaiman book upon which is this is based so I do not know if there was more there than here but it just kind of was a thing in the film. I do not need an entire backstory. Just enough to give me direction. Does not hurt things. I just feel it would have been interesting.
This is definitely one of the weirdest and creepiest animated films I have ever seen. Laika knocked it out of the park with their first feature. The film is a dark fantasy with its main setting being an old mansion that has been divided into smaller apartments. The film barely ventures beyond the building’s grounds and yet still creates a rich and intricate world. There is just so much detail.
The detail is intense for an animated feature. For example, Mr. Bobinsky is wearing a Russian Hero Medal for Service at the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster. This medal is unique as it is the only medal in the world awarded for participating in a nuclear clean up. In a nod to themselves a bit and in their quest for detail, Laika had references such as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival noted in the background. I have read that “trolls” is slang for friends in Michigan where Coraline is from and she uses that in Other World when looking at a picture of her friends. That is serious detail.
The story is strong and there is a dark atmosphere throughout the film. This is definitely not a movie you pop in for the kids and forget about. I am not saying it is going to traumatize them or anything but if they are very young you might be giving them a nightmare or two. The imagery is intense and mildly disturbing. The pacing is slower and much less frenetic than in standard animation. There is no chaotic finale though the ending is exciting.
And that is why I love it. It is a more mature animated feature than what we normally get and it is done in stop motion form. It is an adult film.
The core of the story is the grass is not always greener. Coraline is presented with the life she wants. In the Other World, Coraline gets the type of mother she wants, the type of father she wants, and the type of neighbor she wants but it is not as good as she thinks it will be. And that is not just because it is an illusion created by a dark creature. She realizes the imperfections and shortcomings are what make her life special and good. She understands by the end that as imperfect as it was, it was just what she needed and wanted.
In a day and age where people are pushing for strong female characters, Coraline is one. She is intelligent and independent and a bit fearless though her fearlessness is what causes her problems. She alone though is the one that defeats Other Mother and saves her parents and frees the spirits of Other Mother’s previous victims. The only point they fall short is when Wybie, who is not in the book, is important to the resolution at the well when in the book Coraline accomplished it all on her own.
The inclusion of Wybie was one of a handful of additions to the story in order to stretch it out into a feature film. Selick felt he could only get about 47 minutes if he was 100% faithful to the book and with the permission of author Neil Gaiman, he made some changes which mercifully are unnoticeable. Often additions are noticeable even if you are not aware of what they are as they slow the narrative.
Coraline is an amazing animated feature. It is enjoyable by both children and adults though if you have very young children be there for them the first time you let them see it. Regardless of your age, you will not be disappointed in this.