Animation is a contentious medium. Some consider it to be exclusively for children, while others insist that it can appeal just as much to adults, if not more so. Personally, I agree with the latter, and I can offer films like Waltz with Bashir and Grave of the Fireflies as examples. Coraline, from the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, is a film that I feel bridges the gap between children’s entertainment and adults’ art especially well. On the one hand, it is a stop motion feature about a young girl who discovers a fantasy world from inside her home, but on the other, it has garnered huge critical praise, and almost anyone who sees the film as a child is completely terrified by it. Who is it made for, then? I’d say that it’s for exactly the person who wants to watch it.
Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning) has just moved with her family to Oregon from her home in Michigan. Her parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) ignore her and spend their time writing for a gardening catalog, and the neighbors – an elderly pair of former actresses, a crazy man who claims to train mice for a circus, and a boy named Wyborne (he goes by “Wybie”) who follows her around – are all a bit strange for her liking. In her new home, though, she finds a small door that leads to a world almost the same as her own, only better.
Here, her parents pay loads of attention to her, the actresses are beautiful acrobats, her crazy neighbor actually has a circus of kangaroo mice, and Wybie can’t talk! After a few trips to this world, she is just about ready to stay, until she hears the catch: she must gouge out her eyes and replace them with buttons. Her parents have also been captured, and so she must defeat the monstrous Beldam who controls the fantasy and set things back to the way they were.
It isn’t often that a movie captures me as fully as Coraline does. The characters, story, animation, music, overall design, and little details in the world and between characters all come together to create one of the most unique movies that I have ever seen. Coraline herself is a wonderful character, and we get to watch a bored girl with a poor attitude develop the strength to accept that while her world is not perfect, it is what she has, and she can love it for that.
This film sets up its macabre and charming tone from the opening shots – under fairly creepy music a hand of needles empties a doll and builds a new one, before sending it floating out of a nearby window. For lovers of stop motion, Selick’s past works, or creepy movies in general, this is one that simply can’t be missed.