Thursday, February 26, 2009

Coraline ***1/2


Director: Henry Selick

Nowadays it is rare to go to the movies and wonder "how did they do that?", Henry Selick's beautiful stop motion, 3-D film does just that. Based on the novella by Neil Gaiman, the plot follows Coraline Jones, a girl who moves with her parents to an apartment complex in the gray Ashland, Oregon.
Neglected by her parents, she roams the house and discovers a little door covered by wallpaper. Upon finding the key she opens it only to reveal a bricked wall, but when the night comes the bricks are gone and Coraline finds path to an alternate world where he mother cooks for her and her father knows how to play the piano.
This "Other" world obviously comes with a price and Coraline soon finds out that eventually she has to choose what world she wants to stay in forever.
With an eerie, mythical mood, the film feels more based on Gothic literature and Lewis Carroll, than Disney fairy tales; therefore, it concentrates more on revealing, and unveiling, the world where it takes place, than in delivering a simple story.
Selick then takes great pleasure in the creation of two completely different worlds. One where fog is more common than sunshine and another where cotton candy comes out of cannons.
The rich detail in both worlds is what gives the film its charm. From the oily quality of fried bacon, to the Grand Guignol design of Coraline's actress neighbors, the film constantly makes us want to know what we'll see next.
A sequence set in a moonlit garden that is slowly populated by blooming flowers is breathtaking and a latter circus scene involving some cute rodents seems like the recreation of a vintage sideshow attraction.
Like Coraline, we are completely enthralled by this world.
So much in fact that we obviate the creepiness of the fact that people in the "Other" world have buttons instead of eyes and that practically almost Coraline wishes becomes true.
Selick then turns this notion upside down surprising us with a twist we don't see coming, at least not visually, giving the plot a sense of wholeness.
It's only when the elements get darker that we detect the duality in each of the things we saw before. How a bunch of cute little dogs with angel wings can as easily be seen as monstruous bats, how a pupal sac can resemble wrapped candy and how what was once a harmless room, now becomes a golden cage.
The characters in the film are not really that likable and Selick often makes us wonder who this film was made for exactly?
Coraline's parents may ignore her and spend more time working, but Coraline isn't so nice herself. She's always complaining and fails to see what her parents do for her.
The film may be too scary for small children who won't want to see a child ghost in 3D, but it's also disturbing for grownups because it suggests things animated films, or any other, rarely dare to say: that perhaps childhood is vastly overrated.
Even more suggesting that some people are just not fit to be parents and it's not their fault. It's not an accident that the tunnel that takes Coraline from one world to another at first resembles a return of sorts to the motherly womb, but as the film grows darker seems as endless and menacing as growing up.
That one of the characters is curiously named Wybourn is both darkly funny and sad, that his name is shortened to Wybie would get anyone on an existential roll.
Wrapped by Bruno Coulais' angelic like, Baroque score "Coraline" is safe proof that animation is turning more and more into the most mature, complex form of filmmaking.
One that has no trouble representing parallels with reality to the subconscious, or the beautiful to the macabre.

2 comments:

Ridhi Gupta said...

Hi Jose,

I came in to tell you just how much I appreciate your reviews and the website. Lovely place :)

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woodstock said...

i'm happy animations are returning to the great and deep storytelling instead of idiotic comedies with shallow premises.

the acknowledge that "wall-e" was THE best film of 2008 makes me feel excited about films like "coraline".