Coraline (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Henry Selick
viewed: 02/07/09 at the AMC Loews Metreon 16 with IMAX, SF, CA

Coraline is an amazing stop-motion animated film by director Henry Selick, adapted from a book by Neil Gaiman.  Selick made his name, which will be truly made after this film, in directing The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), James and the Giant Peach (1996), and the mixed-animated/live action film Monkeybone (2001).  When I say “made his name”, I mean, people who follow animation enough would know that he was the director behind the stop-montion animation and those films.  But those films are less known, except for The Nightmare Before Christmas, and that one is often mistakenly attributed to Tim Burton, who was a writer and producer on the film.

The thing is that none of those films begin to touch Coraline in their brilliance.  In Coraline‘s brilliance.  The film is beautiful, firghtening, astounding, moving, amazing.  I reckon it to be one of the best feature animated films ever made in many ways.  It has a darkness and a frightful side that doesn’t make it ideal for the littlest of little ones, especially on the big screen, looming out in 3-D.  But it is so good, many will fall in love with it and it will stand the test of time.

The design and animation, which Selick has always been quite effective with, is heightened here to amazing levels.  The characters are beautifully designed, from the lead to the old ladies, the evil “other” mother, the cat, the dogs, the dog-bats, the acrobatic Russian upstairs…

There is a nuance to stop-motion animation that is truly unique.  The fact that these are actual, three dimensional puppets, animated by fractional movements shot one frame at a time, casting real shadows, real light, is a quirk of the medium.  Their movements, while stilted occasionally by the style of the animation, adds to their beauty and surreality.  It is not a world that we live in.  It is pure dream, pure fantasy, a world recognizable from our sleep and imagination.

And much, much beyond the beauty of the design of the characters is the amazing work done on the set designs.  The gardens, the whole world, is alive.  The story is of a young girl, Coraline, who after moving to an isolated boarding house and ignored by her parents, finds a door to an alternate universe where everything is different, seemingly better, except everyone has buttons for eyes.  This world is the fantasy land, with magical plants, musical parents, fantastic theatrical performances by jumping acrobatic mice and two old English stage actresses and their hordes of lookalike Scottish terriers.

The dream and the nightmare become ravishing, frightening.  The “other” mother deforms, step by step, into some mechanical skeletal spider.

This is a fantastic, wonderful film.  Brilliant.

I took Felix only because Clara had a playdate.  I think she would have been okay, but she would have been scared for certain through many parts.  Quite frankly, I missed having her cuddle and cringe on my lap.  Felix gets a headache from the 3-D glasses, so he watched much of the film without them.  I didn’t think that the 3-D effects were so outstanding or even necessary.  Felix was glad that we got to keep the glasses nonetheless.

I recommend this film about as highly as I can.  It’s a beautifully produced, magical film.  I don’t know that everyone will like it as much as I do, but I think it was brilliant.  It’s a rare film that I would gladly go see again in the theater, and that is not something that I say often.

Henry Selick and his team of animators have made a true gem.

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