‘Coraline (3D)’: A kids movie for grown-ups

Review: B+

Animated films are arguably the most quickly advancing genre in terms of technological change. Within the past decade we’ve seen non-CGI films become virtually non-existent as the medium moves towards computer animated, three-dimensional films. With each step forward in technology there seems to be a step back in terms of narrative quality. Spectacle over substance might be the motto of many animation studios these days.

So when a film comes along like Coraline, which uses the old animation standard stop-motion technology combined with stunning 3D animation, it is truly a breath of fresh air. What you get is something that has an intellectual purpose behind the razzle dazzle, providing a more satisfying movie experience.

Writer/director Henry Selick, the real director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, steps out of Tim Burton’s shadow with this adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s clever book of the same name. The title character’s name is a mixed up version of the common name “Caroline” representing the fact that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill fairytale and nothing is exactly what it seems.

Slightly mis-marketed as a children’s film, Coraline centers on the restless young protagonist who has just moved into a new triplex in Oregon so her parents can have peace and quiet to focus on writing their gardening catalogue. An antsy Coraline who has a penchant for adventure is constantly getting in the way of her parents and eventually takes off to explore her new community. She runs into a neighborhood boy who gives her a doll that bears an exact likeness to Coraline and becomes the catalyst for the mysteries that are to come.

Late one night, Coraline stumbles upon a secret passageway that leads her to a parellel world where her “New Mother” and “New Father” are waiting to give the special girl everything she has ever wanted. The most curious feature about this new world is that every character has buttons instead of eyes. This new world is fascinating to Coraline and she frequently returns to explore. We soon learn that nothing is what it seems and the fantasy is just as manufactured as Coraline’s actual reality.

The story has a lot of layers and complexity for a movie that seems to be aimed at younger audiences. The three levels of the apartment each represent different paths that Coraline could take. She could continue to live in the realm of fantasy like the borders to the north or south, or accept the mundane like her “gardening expert” parents who hate dirt. Ultimately the main theme in Coraline is that one should be thankful for what they have before its gone (another parallel with that Oz movie).

The production design for the movie, also by Selick, is brilliant as the transition from Coraline’s bleak reality to the fantastical “other world” is reminiscent of the tornado voyage from Kansas to Oz. The expressionist style of the characters and setting gives everything that eerie feel that is familiar to Selick and Burton films.

Another strong point in the film is the fantastic score by Bruno Coulais and the folk/alternative group They Might Be Giants. It emphasizes the harp to really capture the dreamlike fantasy of the movie.

Bottom Line: Coraline is a solid early 2009 release and a fine addition to the 3D animated film canon.

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