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Director Henry Selick is best known for the terrific stop motion animations The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach. Original story writer Neil Gaiman was just awarded the Newberry Award -- the Oscar equivalent for children's novels -- for last year's "The Graveyard Book". Adults, on the other hand, may know him better for the spectacular comic series The Sandman, his screenplay adaptation of The Princess Mononoke or any of half a dozen award winning, New York Times Book Review chart topping fantasy novels that are good reads all. Needless to say, we are a fan of the work of both men's work, though we are not part of the preteen/early teen girl demographic that the Coraline novel was written for. We would be part of that "parents hiding in the back row" coming of age film for kidlets if we had ten year olds under wing. There's nothing in the story that should worry parental units and, as for the kidlets, those still deep into the novel will enjoy the beautifully stop-motion 3D animated film more than those that aren't. For us oldsters, Coraline is . . .
IN SHORT: A beautifully animated bore. [Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor. 100 minutes]
We don't compare to the novel. Period. Any kidlet who has been through Gaiman's work multiple times, and that's most of 'em, are going to have a much better time than we did. And we like the guy's work! The technical aspects of Henry Selick's stop motion, 3D film were enough to distract any adult enough that, without some kid going "ooo" to break that staid analysis mode, Coraline never got off to a good start with us. So we did something that we rarely do -- because our initial audience had no kidlets in it; because we always try to sit with an audience of the target demographic; because we couldn't believe the film could be so flat out boring, we sat a second time. This time there were kidlets all over the joint. So . . .
IN SHORT 2: Jackpot. Your kidlet's joy will be contagious.
Ten year old Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning) is no happy camper. She lives in an unhappy, colorless house in an equally unhappy, colorless new-to-her town. Coraline would much rather be playing with her friends in her old home town. In this new town, there are no kids her own age to play with -- except this all too talkative boy called Wybie (Robert Bailey) and he's, well, he's a boy. Mom (Teri Hatcher) and Dad (John Hodgman), writers both, she on a garden catalog featuring a no-holds barred treatise on the multitude of uses for mulch, he on something computer technical. Too wrapped up in their work, Coraline is told to go out and explore the 150 year old house she now lives in.
The "Pink Palace" house has been converted to have three apartments. In the basement are two retired actresses and up top is a secretive, paranoid Russian guy. These tenants will provide story material for later on in the film. More to the point, Coraline finds a tiny door, perhaps a foot high, at the baseboard of one of the rooms. Interest piqued, Coraline bugs mom to open the door and discovers nothing but bricks. Whatever is behind the door is a mystery yet to be revealed. First, bedtime.
Coraline is a woken by a cute mouse. She chases said mouse back to that little door and through it into an mirror image world. There, a happy mom -- her "Other Mother" -- cooks sugary delights in a spotless kitchen and a happy "Better" Father does happy dad work in that wonderful nostalgic 50s kind of way. This world is colorful and happy and everything a ten year old girl could wish for -- birthday cake for breakfast and breakfast food for dinner, etc. -- except for the bit about the buttons sewn into the human faces where the eyes are supposed to be. This must be a dream, right?
Well, that's what Coraline thinks. That's what her mom tells her. But the next night there are four mousies come to take her through the tunnel and things become really fun in that colorful world! We meet the "other" version of Coraline's neighbors. Just as in her world there is the Russian, Bobinsky (Ian McShane), a much happier man who has successfully training his own "mouse circus" and the actresses, Miss Spinks and Miss Forcible (Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders) who fill the air with talk of their grand old days on the stage, and fill their bookshelves with the stuffed remnants of Scotch terriers they have loved. They have three live ones to care for in this film. Space on the bookshelves has already been set aside. Just the kind of yecchy thing a ten year old (regardless) would love!
Also in this world is an "other" Wybie cannot speak, but his cat (Keith David) can. Bobinsky's mouse circus is a full fledged wonder and all those dead Scotties are waiting in a theater to watch their mistresses perform their old stage routines. It's as beautiful as it is creepy, which means something is about to happen bigtime in the "real" world.
Sure does. Mom and Dad disappear. Other Mother makes demands. Other Mother has a pair of buttons-for-eyes with Coraline's name on 'em. And when she says no, our heroine is tossed through a magic mirror into a room containing all the ghosts of other children who have had their eyes buttoned up. All plead with Coraline to help them attain their final rest. When Other Mother comes back for Coraline, she makes a deal -- find the eyes of the ghost children and her parents and all will go free.
Coraline is in big trouble. 'nuff said.
The NET NET is that, since we write for the grown ups, IF you have kidlets to splurge on, take them to a big screen. If not, stay home. The technical perfection of Henry Selick (and crews) work can be absolutely overwhelming to any adult who -- we're guilty of this -- thinks too much or gets too absorbed in it. If that happens Coraline is a terminal sit.
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