I am surprised as shit to announce I have seen the best Dakota Fanning film likely ever to be made. I kid because I hate. But seriously, Henry Selick’s CORALINE is a fantastic achievement that has little to do with that little android’s involvement. Fans of stop-motion animation, Grimm’s fairy tales, and Hot Topic now have a new film to swoon over. Before we go any further I would just like to throw out there that if you can see this little gem in 3D—please do so before it’s too late.
First, don’t stroll into CORALINE with your NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS checklist ready for annoying comparison. Yes, both films are directed by the same talented dude (NEWS FLASH: Tim Burton didn’t direct either of these films), and have the same visual flair in their use of stop-motion storytelling, but they belong to be judged as completely separate entities. CORALINE isn’t a musical. It has a beautiful score, but no characters burst into song to help tell the story. This film is a marvelously inventive children’s horror movie. Think MONSTER HOUSE on acid. Sounds fun, eh?
We begin with little Coraline Jones who has just moved into a great big old house called the “Pink Palace” accompanied by her two absent-minded parents. It’s a bit of a strange arrangement because the Jones family only rents part of the house, and share the rest with at least three other quirky tenants. Up in the attic lives the hilariously limber Mr. Bobinsky (voiced by DEADWOOD’s Ian McShane) who spends his days doing gymnastics on the roof of the Pink Palace and ordering smelly exotic cheeses for his circus mice. In the basement we have the very plump and very weird Miss Spink and Miss Forcible who are a retired nightclub act. Both characters have a penchant for saltwater taffy and living… and sometimes dead… Scottish terriers. For the record, I would love living here.
But despite the awesome strangeness of her neighbors, Coraline hates her new digs. She also despises the fact that her parents are more interested in writing a book about gardening than they are in her. One day while forced to explore the very house she has come to loathe, she discovers a small doorway hidden behind the wallpaper of her living room. In a very BEING JOHN MALKOVICH/ALICE IN WONDERLAND moment, Coraline opens the door to find a tunnel leading to an alternate universe. If not for anything other than to just escape boredom, she decides to follow the tunnel and see what lies on the other side. What happens next is a series of creepy interactions between Coraline and her “other” parents that seem to embody everything Coraline wants out of her “real” parents. They’re happy, they listen to her, they cook awesome foods and desserts, they shower her with gifts and entertainment and love. The only problem is her “other” parents don’t have eyes.
While being completely enthralled with this film, I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that this is surely going to scare the shit out of kids. Good. It’s about time someone like Henry Selick and Neil Gaiman (wrote the book) don’t pander to the shorties and actually give them some visuals to remember. I found myself a few times in the climax of the film marveling at some of the disturbing imagery. Kudos to Selick for cementing himself as the master off stop-motion animation—he deserves the title. I almost wrote the guy off after hanging myself while watching MONKEYBONE. Here, Selick runs wild with creativity on familiar ground. Just stay here, Henry… you’re kind of awesome at it. Oh, and anyone who casts Dakota Fanning (even if it’s just voice work) and makes her bearable deserves a cookie.
CORALINE is a visual splendor that is viscerally enhanced like no other film I have ever seen using 3D technology. It’s not so much a FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 “oh look I’m playing with a yo-yo right into the camera!” 3D (which is awesome BTW), but more of a way to enrich the film’s storytelling. I am still trying to wrap my head around how goddamn inventive this movie is. Whether it’s the array of creative characters and their designs, to all of the nonsensical beauty contained in the “nightmare world”—CORALINE has more originality in any given scene than most films of recent memory. I loved how ghoulish the situations were, and the fact that all of the characters in the alternate universe have buttons in place of their eyes. It happily reminded me of some of the imagery from Stuart Gordon’s DOLLS. This is a beautiful, creepy little movie masquerading as a children’s film. Make no mistake, CORALINE is sure to scare the hell out of the kiddies and possibly give the parents some goosebumps as well. Don’t miss this.