When most people think that The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Tim Burton film, they are overlooking the genius behind it. While it was a Burton story the director was actually Henry Sellick. His new film, Coraline, is an adaptation of a beloved novella by British author Neil Gaiman and has a remarkable visual style. Presented in 3D, this stop motion adventure has some truly breathtaking and exciting moments and some of the most incredible stop motion puppetry ever committed to film. However, while its second half is amazing, you have to sit through a fair amount of tedium to get there.The story revolves around a young girl named Coraline. She has recently moved with her parents to a pink mansion on a hill and is not adjusting to her new life well. Her parents are writers and obsessed with getting their gardening catalogue finished leaving little time to pay attention to Coraline. One day Coraline finds a small door that, when opened reveals only a brick wall. However, later that night the wall is gone and instead is a tunnel leading to another world. The other world is indentical to her own except that her mother and father lavish attention on her and her every whim is fulfilled. Her “other” parents are a nicer, kinder version of her real parents and look the same except with buttons for eyes. They give Coraline the option of staying with them forever, but to do so she has to agree to have her own eyes replaced with buttons. When she refuses, the perfect world starts to unravel and the sinister nature of the “other” mother is revealed.
While I enjoyed the film on the whole, I found its tone a too stoic in the first half and, at times, quite boring. In order to set up the adventure and struggles of the second half of the film, Sellick needed to establish the world and the relationships with the parents so that when Coraline is given the choice of leaving it all behind, the audience understands her reluctance. However, Sellick is a little too heavy handed with how he dealt with the parents. He made them extremely poor parents and not very likable at all. In the novel, they are both good people but its Coralines perception of them as being boring that is their biggest downfall in her eyes. In the film their look as well as their demeanour is detestable and so, when they are in peril in the third act of the film, the audience isn’t inspired to care for their fates at all.
The film also adds a character not in the book, Wybie Lovat (short from Wybourne). He is a neighbour of similar age to Coraline whose grandmother had lost a sister to the other world many years prior. He is the catalyst of why the “other mother” takes an interest in Coraline and plays an important role in the finale of the film. His character is likable and done well and his relationship with Coraline is done well. However, in order to establish him in the story, time has to be taken away from fleshing out the real parents and the way Coraline feels about them. The film needs either more time showing the softer side of the parents and the addition of the Wybie to the story prohibits that when keeping to a reasonable running time.
When the film ramps up in the second half, it is amazing to watch unfold. The animation is incredible and the way the other world deteriorates as Coraline starts to fight her way back home is truly remarkable. There is obviously a fair amount of CGI mixed in with the stop motion work in order to accomplish some of the effects but it is never jarring or out of place and blends perfectly with the puppetry.
Perhaps the best thing about the film is the character of Coraline herself. The voice work by actor Dakota Fanning is exceptional and endearing. The mother character in both worlds is also performed brilliantly by Teri Hatcher, especially when her true nature is revealed. She is truly creepy and menacing, not just visually but by the energy Hatcher injects in the voice work.
Coraline is showing in 3D in selected cinemas and while the 3D looked great, it’s not essential that you see it in 3D. It definitely adds to the experience, especially in the scenes when it is done well but, at times, the 3D doesn’t quite work and it pulls you out of the film a little when images become blurred or doubled up. Thankfully, there isn’t many “poke you in the eye” 3D moments and the movie is allowed to exist as a regular film that is enhanced by adding the extra dimension.
Coraline is a sweet movie that both Neil Gaiman and Nightmare Before Christmas fans will enjoy. It isn’t perfect but it has heart and the artistry behind it shows off how far stop motion has come in the last 10 years.