Archive Review: Coraline (2009) – 4/5 Stars

It seems like Pixar is the only company producing outside-the-box animated adventures these days, but don’t discredit “Coraline,” Laika Entertainment’s second stop-motion feature after Tim Burton’s “The Corpse Bride.” Based on the Neil Gaiman book, “Coraline” is one of the more creative stories and executions of family entertainment to have come out in awhile and almost unquestionably one of the best stop-motion films ever made.

Although “Coraline” is certainly not for kids under 7 years old who are easily susceptible to nightmares, that doesn’t change the quality of craftsmanship. Director Henry Selick, easily one of the best stop-motion directors next to Nick Park of the “Wallace & Gromit” series and maybe the more creative and daring between the two, brings a creepy surrealism and an abstract design to a story that begs for it.

“Coraline” is about a girl of the same name who moves into a new house with her apathetic parents that don’t seem interested in her needs at all. She finds a small door in her new house that leads to an alternate reality with seemingly perfect parents — only they have button eyes. But things aren’t as rosy as they seem and Coraline soon finds herself in trouble.

Immediately, “Coraline” charms you with the creative imagining of its world. I’m unfamiliar with the book, but I believe it’s without pictures, making Selick and his creative team’s vision a true accomplishment. Not unlike Selick’s work in “The Nightmare before Christmas,” the figures have abstract shapes and exaggerated bodies whether it’s Coraline’s dad’s slightly long neck or the neighbor Mr. Bobinsky’s tiny appendages but ball-shaped midsection. Even the slight tilt in Coraline’s head adds something to her character that peaks your curiosity in a way that a more traditional CGI animation might not necessarily do.

The beauty of the story is that Coraline learns a very fine lesson in reality versus idealism, that reality can be deceiving in both good and bad ways and that our parents, even if they’re not always the nicest and best and giving us what we like, are the best thing we’ve got as a child. It’s a perfect fit for stop-motion — the subtle (and not so subtle) distortions between reality and alternate but ultimately fictitious reality — and Selick really uses that to his and ultimately our advantage.

4/5 Stars

Directed by: Henry Selick
Written by: Henry Selick, Neil Gaiman (book)
Starring: (voices) Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher

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