Cute as a button – Coraline DVD review

Coraline – Starring Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman. Directed by Henry Selick. Rated PG. Originally published August 5, 2009. By Simon Miraudo.

The tagline to Coraline reads “be careful what you wish for”; a sentiment no doubt shared by countless parents eager to take their kids to an entertaining family film. It is slim pickens out thar’. For every thoughtful Pixar film there seems to be a dozen lazy Night at the Museum clones. Well, the good news is that Coraline is actually the best family flick since WALL-E wheeled into cinemas in 2008. It’s wildly inventive, thoroughly amusing and fuelled by unhinged imagination. And it’s creepy as all hell.

Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) has just moved away from home and into the Pink Palace Apartments with her distracted parents (Teri Hatcher and John “I’m a PC” Hodgman). Unable to drag her folks away from their work, Coraline attempts to amuse herself with her oddball neighbours and one awkward local boy named Wybie. Things start to look up when curious Coraline happens upon a secret door in her new home; one which leads to a parallel universe with extra-doting parents, scrumptious food and round-the-clock entertainment (including a particularly impressive mouse-circus). Maybe, Coraline thinks, I should hang out in the not-so-real world a little longer. I mean, just because everyone here has buttons for eyes doesn’t mean they’re bad news, right?

Wrong, obviously. Coraline’s “other mother” turns out to be a nasty piece of work, and may or may not be some sort of slave-driving child-eater. As I say when it comes to kid’s films: if it’s implied and never denied, then it’s probably true. Without spoiling too much of the fun, Coraline contends with some truly creepy crawlies, a trio of polite ghosts and one particularly snarky cat (Keith David). Of course, no matter how many different combinations of nouns and adjectives I provide, I wouldn’t be able to capture the sheer nuttiness of Coraline’s (parallel) universes.

Coraline is based on the novel by Neil Gaiman and brought to life by stop-motion-master Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas). Considering the tireless hours of work that goes into stop-motion animation, you almost have to wonder which filmmakers are crazy enough to put in all that effort. Already this year we saw Adam Elliot’s beautiful claymation picture Mary and Max; although that film only featured two main characters, and we never even got to see them talk. Here we have an entire cast of weirdos interacting and providing fully-rounded performances. In fact, Coraline may be the most-realistic portrayal of a 12-year-old we’ve ever seen in a movie. She’s not one of those overly smart kids who are wise beyond their years, nor is she annoyingly cute. She’s just a real kid, and that’s probably the highest compliment that can be paid to a fictional, animated movie character.

The film possibly features the best use of 3D that I’ve ever seen in cinemas. Over the past couple years we have seen 3D used as both an added afterthought (as in Monsters vs. Aliens) and purely as a gimmick (as in My Bloody Valentine). While watching Coraline in 3D I thought “this is how the movie was meant to be seen.” The added layer of depth is used to startling effect and also compliments the film’s recurring doll-house motif. It’s as if Selick wants to remind us that yes, these characters are actually just toys – but look, they are coming to life in front of your very eyes!

There will always be films clamouring for your attention (read: money), and more often than not, they’ll come for your kids first. I highly doubt that you will see Coraline collectibles at your local fast food restaurant. That is, unless McDonald’s are partial to the idea of throwing mangy cats and giant spiders into their Happy Meals. But if you want to treat your kids to something more substantial than junk food, take them to this thoughtful, funny and oddball adventure. Coraline is a film you wish you could have enjoyed when you were young enough to pretend there was a parallel universe hidden in your home too.

4.5/5

Check out my other reviews here.

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