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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Coraline

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Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is a Math/English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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Coraline

A “dark, loony vision”, “eerie atmospherics”, “the macabre trespasses on the mundane” – that’s how New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman’s work is described in ecstatic reviews, including the likes of horror masters Peter Straub and Stephen King.  The screen adaptation of his dark children’s tale, Coraline, is given literal legs by director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach) whose stylized vision begets a quirky, gangly heroine, part restless explorer, part innate rescuer, her cobalt-colored hair reminiscent of shiny fondant.  Don’t be fooled by the sugary implications.

Poor, bored Coraline Jones, (Dakota Fanning, voice) having recently relocated to rainy Oregon and not yet unpacked, has only the rumor of a deep old well and a creaky ancient Victorian house to wander around in.  Wybie Lovat (Robert Bailey, Jr., voice) is a mischievous chatterbox of a boy that makes her acquaintance while hunting for banana slugs.  Coraline is not impressed with her new companion’s external adventures and seeks out some internal ones of her own.

The downstairs tenants provide some eccentric relief in the persons of Miss Forcible (Dawn French, voice) and Miss Spink (Jennifer Saunders, voice) aging actresses whose penchant for Scottish Terriers makes for some macabre memorials.  Their collection of ribbon candy predates Coraline by decades. Upstairs is the domain of the continually exercising Mr. Bobinsky, (Ian McShane, voice) a circus performer with a troupe of trained mice and a physique that is, shall we say, unique.

Mother (Teri Hatcher, voice) and Father (John Hodgman, voice) have no time for activities or questions; both are obsessively working on a garden catalog, shooing Coraline from the room like a pesky fly. She concocts busy-work to keep herself occupied by counting the windows and doors of her new home, which leads to the discovery of a small, hidden door that opens to a tempting purple tunnel.  Suddenly poor, bored Coraline has something to do.

The end of this tunnel leads to a door that opens to the same room she just left, but different. It's colorful and inviting. A loving Other Mother and Other Father await, attentive and welcoming.  Coraline’s Other Room is an idealized version of her own stark space.  The Other World is juxtaposed, like the O and the A in Coraline’s name – don’t call her Caroline!  It’s a personalized Shangri-La but for one unsettling detail:  every Other entity that Coraline meets has sewn on buttons for eyes.  But this is easy to overlook at first, when magical events amuse and entertain the new visitor.

Coraline accesses the mini-door at will, having idealized adventures with her improved neighbors.  She attends an elaborate theater performance from Other Miss Forcible and Other Miss Spink and a musical number put on by Other Mr. Bobinsky’s mice.  She takes flight with her gardening father on a planter-turned-helicopter.  Even Other Wybie joins in the fun, despite his own button eyes and sewn-shut mouth.  Events begin to turn sinister when Coraline finds she can’t return to her real home at will.  Other Mother wants her to stay and become part of the button-eyed inhabitants herself.  Suddenly, Coraline’s drab, rainy, unsatisfying former life is the one that looks too good to be true.  A sinister plot is revealed and a key figure turns out to be an imposter.  Coraline must risk everything to save the day (not to mention her parents and a trio of ghost-kids) and set things right.

Stop motion animation, combined with stereoscopic 3-D make this an enhanced adventure and the effect is put to good use with color, movement, and an atmosphere of creepy conspiracy.  “Everything in that movie was handmade; every leaf was hand cut, placed and aligned,” declares Selick.   The moon and garden flowers become magical accomplices.  Rag dolls, mice, and curious contraptions are never quite what they seem, and it’s not uncommon for someone’s waist to be the circumference of a sapling while their relatively massive head is supported by a twig of a neck.  You could say that Selick is the master of spindly splendor. Remember Nightmare’s Jack Skellington?

He does not shy away from the morbid and grotesque, but embraces them, citing Grimm’s fairy tales as graphic precursors.  “It’s not for little kids under eight,” he warns.  There’s a darkness within the light, a beauty within the horror, and a ghastly grace that covers everything in Coraline’s world.

Neil Gaiman reportedly adores the finished product.  That makes two of us.