Shiny Shelf

Coraline 3D

By Mags L Halliday on 24 May 2009

‘Coraline’ joins the mini-genre of gothic fantasy ideal for little (and not so little) girls who like stripey tights, monsters and cats. It is a scary film, but I think some of the reason adults find it so is that it so effectively plays on every child’s temporary angry assertion that “you’re not my real parents” and also on a child’s fear of abandonment.

Coraline Jones is a smart little girl. She’s a water witch, she thinks, and wants to go out getting dirty in the abandoned garden of their new home. Her parents, who write about gardening for a living, hate dirt and are too busy with their current project to pay her much mind. The other occupants of the house are strange old types: two former showgirls who read tealeaves in the basement, and a performing mouse circus ringmaster in the attic. And when she finds a tiny, papered-over door in one of the rooms, Coraline wants to find out more… At night, she wakes to see the performing mice leading her towards the door and on the other side is her ‘other’ mum and dad. Mum bakes lovely food instead of the rubbish her ‘real’ mum offers. Dad makes up songs about Coraline and sows her a lovely garden, instead of being a tired washed out man struggling with his work. The garden is enchanted and magical. The mouse circus really does perform and the old women have a theatre in the basement and put on amazing shows just for Coraline. It’s perfect. But in order to stay, she needs to sew buttons in place of her eyes…

The 3D is variable: some effects drew gasps from the audience, but sometimes it seemed flatter than I expected. The moment that really impressed was outside of the movie – seeing the familiar Universal logo apparently hovering in front of the screen. Within it, sewing needles thrust towards the audiences, or flying insects hung in space, but there wasn’t a greater depth of field than normal for most of it.

Not that that really matters. The film is brilliant, in the way that only something created by people who really understand why girls love gothic fantasy can be. Coraline is so plausible, with her little “go ahead, impress me” scowl, her blue nail varnish and her desire for her parents’ attention. The seductiveness of other mother’s world is alluring but the impact of Coraline’s actions there is devastating. There’s something visceral about the way things are sewn together or unravelled so that although there is no gore, some of it is horrible. The plot is pretty straightforward, with a quest sequence in the final third that is thankfully not drawn out, and should work well for children.

The casting is spot on. Dakota Fanning has just the right tone for Coraline, and Teri Hatcher is perfect as both real and other mother. French and Saunders play batty old showgirls perfectly, and Ian McShane relishes every line as Mr Bobinsky the circus performer. The soundtrack is of the chanting, choral style favoured by other fantasy films such as Harry Potter and there’s only the one actual song – a number penned by They Might Be Giants – which is appropriately in the fantastical other world.

The animation is as inventive and quirky as you might expect from Selick, the animator behind the cult film turned merchandising bonanza ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ as well as ‘James and the Giant Peach’ and the animator of ‘The Life Aquatic’. ‘Coraline’s production team employed one craftsperson to handknit all of Coraline’s tiny sweaters, as well as making flowers from popcorn.

‘Coraline’ is darker than Sellick’s previous work, and possibly more suited to slightly older children because it starts with a more realistic premise than ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, but it is all the more delightful because of its clear joy in creating something nasty beneath the fantasy.

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