Coraline (2009)
(Release Date: February 06, 2009)
(Premiere Date: February 05, 2009 [Portland International Film Festival])

So What? Sew BUTTONS... on your EYES!So What? Sew BUTTONS... on your EYES!So What? Sew BUTTONS... on your EYES!So What? Sew BUTTONS... on your EYES!

Our Eyes will be on Coraline!

Your Brother from Another Mother!!
J.C. Maçek III
The World's Greatest Critic!

There have been a number of "darker" movies that are ostensibly aimed at kids. This is hardly a surprise when so many books aimed toward the youth market carry the "Goosebumps" or "Harry Potter" branding. Truly, few of these films push boundaries far beyond your basic Trick-Or-Treat scariness, but there is very little question that there is an element of the horrific in tales like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Igor, James and the Giant Peach and Corpse Bride. That might surprise some uninformed parents as they bring their kids to these films, but in many cases these can be passed off as less terrifying than merely "weird". Weird is one specialty of prolific writer Neil Gaiman. Another specialty is excellent writing. You readers of DC's Sandman will know what I mean. When Gaiman's novel Coraline is adapted by Henry Selick, director of Nightmare Before Christmas, we're sure to get something that is unquestionably Weird.
Button it! Then TALK to the HAND!

Gimme a J! Gimme a C! Gimme an M! Gimme a 3! Gimme a 3! Gimme a 3!

And we do.

There is also very little denying that this filmed version is a horror movie, in the truest sense. Selick, who both wrote and directed Coraline, manages to create an engrossing and deep story that evolves into a dream-come-true, then devolves into a waking nightmare. And he does it all with Stop-Motion Animated characters that move so seamlessly that the film could easily be confused with actual CGI. The look of this incredible world is made all the richer when viewed (as originally presented) in Digital 3-D.

This 3-D brings us our opening sequence, which features a set of needle-like hands (Edward Scissorhands isn't nearly this dangerous) creating a stuffed doll that looks uncannily like our main character. We soon meet that character in the form of Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning), an imaginative, lonely girl with preoccupied parents and a whole gaggle of nobody to relate to in, or around, their new home. Mom and Dad (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman, respectively) are both writers of botany sciences who, ironically, really hate dirt, but somehow find themselves elbow-deep in their craft anyway.

When Coraline first sets out on her own, she meets the landlady's grandson Whybie Lovat (a Selick creation voiced by Robert Bailey, Jr.) and his odd, tagalong black Cat. Soon she's meeting the strange neighbors in her family's new building, like a couple of retired synchronized swimmers (Jennifer Saunders' Miss Spink and Dawn French's Miss Forcible) who keep their lively pet dogs close and their deceased pet dogs even closer. Then she meets another neighbor, a retired Russian circus performer named Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane) who has taken to training mice for his own mini-circus. Sound weird? Yes, that's weird.

But that's nothing compared to what Coraline is about to find when the locked mini-door in the spare room opens wide to reveal another world, just like Coraline's only better. As soon as she crawls through a feast is waiting for her, prepared with loving care by her "Other Mother" (also voiced by Hatcher). There's an Other Father, an Other Wybie and even Other Neighbors, each one of whom is just like the original version, only much cooler, much more fun and much more attentive to Coraline. Oh, and one other thing, everyone in this "Other World" also has Buttons instead of eyes. That might be slightly chilling. That's only the beginning.

The only character in the other world who doesn't seem to have buttons for eyes is that darned Cat from the real world who keeps sneaking in somehow, as Cats tend to do. His major difference in this world is that he actually has plenty to say (in the voice of Keith David) and he seems to carry a warning about things that are too good to be true.

What follows is a series of wonders ushering in a series of horrors including angry farm equipment, the ghosts of murdered children, angry mechanical insects, parental abduction and, oh yeah, the surgical replacement of eyeballs with plastic buttons. It all centers around the mystery of the Belle Dame, the frightening creature who (quite literally) holds the key to this other world. Coraline has only her brain and determination to save the day and her eyes. Trust me, folks, if you have a phobia about needles, welcome to your nightmare. Though bloodless, Coraline has some imagery that borderlines on Hellraiser grotesqueness.

And there's the key to Coraline. It's a very scary movie that works because of good story-telling and suspense, much more than blood or violence or the overused "BOO" factor that most so-called horror flicks use these days. Make no mistake, Coraline is a horror movie and the extent to which the film is "Kid Friendly" is entirely up to the parent. However, Coraline does tell its story without profanity or explicit violence and with fully three dimensional characters (whether you watch the film in 3-D or not). Further, it's hard to watch Coraline and not root for the good people, feeling great when they win and bad when they lose. Like watching most great animated features, Coraline is the kind of film you feel good about after watching it. For some, of course, the good feeling might just be because they made it out alive and intact. Yes, it's scary in the right ways, but it's certainly not devoid of terrifying sights to see along the way.

With music by They Might Be Giants and Bruno Coulais, Coraline can often sound as weird and cool as it looks. Think twice before bringing the smaller kids to this one, but be aware that for all its chills and thrills, this is a brilliant film, definitely worth Four Stars out of Five! A children's move that doesn't pull its punches and is as enjoyable for the adults as it is for the kids may seem to be too good to be true, but be careful what you wish for... what you get may be something OTHER.

See you in the next weird reel Belle Dame Sans Merci! I'll be keeping my eyes on you!

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Coraline (2009) reviewed by J.C. Maçek III
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