Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Last night I weakened. I was trying to discipline myself not to run out and see every movie that caught my fancy, because times are tight. I reckoned if I made it through Monday night, I would be all right at least for a week. Since this is Verdi Week for the St. Louis Symphony Chorus, I won't have another open evening until next Monday. I almost made it - and then, with time enough to get to Ronnie's Wehrenberg Theatres before the last showing of Coraline, I weakened. I think it was the munchies that did me in. I also enjoyed a chocolate shake at the concession stand.

Coraline is an animated film based on the book by Neil Gaiman that I once declared to be the best book I had read all year. Several years have passed since then; several other books have had that honor; many, many other books have intervened; so I don't remember a lot of detail about Gaiman's book. But what I do remember seems to have been covered very nicely by Henry Selick's film adaptation.

Up front, I must say that it is a profoundly weird movie. It is also spookier than all get-out. After all, it comes from the same people who made The Nightmare Before Christmas. It has the same type of animation, the same flare for macabre humor, and the same rich palette of striking and unusual imagery. It isn't Disney. It doesn't flow like a predictable Disney story; its characters are not touched by Disney sweetness; and it takes creative risks for a kid's movie - risks that may cause some parents to squirm.

For example, take Mr. Bobinski who lives upstairs from Coraline Jones and her parents. He's eccentric, possibly crazy, and probably drunk. Then take the two elderly actresses who live downstairs; they have colossal boobs, a thing about winged dogs, a thing about sticky candy, and an icky tendency to flaunt their sexuality. And finally, take the Jones family, which isn't unusually happy. Coraline is lonely after moving away from her friends. She's a bit prickly toward her parents and the hangdog neighbor boy, Wybie. Maybe her parents deserve a bit of prickliness, because they are too busy writing about gardening to do any actual gardening - let alone pay attention to their daughter.

But Coraline goes above and beyond the call of prickliness when she decides to join her "other mother and father" in the magical world next door, entered via the small door under the living room wallpaper. Coraline makes a calculated, and frankly snotty, decision to let the button-eyed doubles of her parents lavish love and attention on her, rather than put up with reality. But when she realizes that the cost of her decision is having her own eyes replaced with buttons, Coraline starts looking for a way out. And that way turns out to be an increasingly suspenseful game of wits against the Beldam, a.k.a. Other Mother, who controls everything in her deceptive world. Everything in her world decays from fake, Disneylike splendor to chilling squalor as Coraline fights for her way back home.

My rough analysis of the structure of this movie holds that it's all about three spectacular settings, each of which you see in three different forms. You see Mr. Bobinsky's flat with its flying mouse circus, the Misses Spink and Forcible's haven of thespian vanity, and the house's elaborate garden with the paved paths. First you see each one as they exist in the real world. Then you see them in the Beldam's world, all spruced up to impress Coraline. And finally, you see what they have become as the illusions begin to fall apart - ghastly things. When you see this movie, your imagination will be rewarded with many brand-new dreams and nightmares.

Parental Guidance Advisory: There is some mild swearing in this movie. Coraline says "God!" a couple of times. Coraline's father cracks a butt joke. There are ghosts and things even scarier than ghosts in this film. You may find, however, that kids appreciate this movie for not going to any heroic lengths to be kid-friendly. It does what it does, which, as I have said before, is really weird. But it does it with stop-motion animation of the highest quality ever achieved todate. It does it with characters that have expressive faces, voiced with spirit and charm by the likes of Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, Keith David and Ian McShane.

No comments: