Sunday, February 08, 2009

Enter the enchanting world of "Coraline"

Before seeing Henry Selick's rather amazing "Coraline," I was convinced that 3-D, be it in movies or television, was simply a gimmick to catch our extremely short attention spans for a few seconds. Now, however, at least when it comes to animation, you can count me as a true believer.

Actually, I was caught up in the magic of it even before the movie started, when for the first time I got to see the trailer for Pixar's next flick, "Up," for the first time in 3-D. It looks amazing, and I'm betting it will easily be one of this summer's best movies.

As for "Coraline" itself, this was only the second time I had bothered to don those goofy glasses (the first, oddly enough, being for another flick associated with Selick, the re-release of "The Nightmare Before Christmas"), and this was the first time that the 3-D effect felt perfectly organic to the story and only added to the world it was painstakingly used to create.

But as amazing as the stop motion animation/puppetry was, it all would have felt more than a little empty if it weren't for the strength of the story, adapted by Selick from the children's novella by Neil Gaiman with healthy doses of "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Pan's Labyrinth" thrown in as inspiration.

Like Ophelia in Guillermo Del Toro's flick, our heroine Coraline constructs an elaborate fantasy world to escape the reality of her surroundings, here simply an old house in the middle of nowhere rather than the Spanish Civil War. In exploring her new abode, Coraline discovers a small door that's been painted over and, once opened, reveals in reality only another layer of bricks.

It's once she drifts off to sleep, however, that magical mice lead her through the door to an alternate universe in which she encounters an "other mother" and "other father" who, as opposed to her benign but somewhat neglectful real folks, offer her all the thrills that her own mind can conjure, plus some creepy creations that make this about as close as you can come to a horror movie for children (and not-yet-grown-up adults like me.)

I don't want to reveal any more than that about the story, but it's in this alternative universe that Selick's stable of animators/puppeteers get to really shine, most magically in Mr. Bobinsky's (voiced by Ian McShane) circus of bouncing mice (which you have to see to believe), but also in a pack of Scottie dogs who turn into bats at Coraline's command. Perhaps the most inane thing I've read in the past year was a debate at Aint It Cool News over whether these rather amazing mice were a feat of animation or simply CGI gimmickry; if you can't simply sit back and behold the visual feast that unfolds in front of you, I have to wonder why you go to the movies in the first place.

Selick/Gaiman's tale starts to unravel a bit as Coraline's dream world becomes more of a nightmare, but even here it's kept afloat as the vision of our young heroine, voiced with surprising spirit by Dakota Fanning (who, frankly, until she becomes a young adult instead of a kid trying desperately to be one, is better heard but not seen in my book, hence I won't be going to see her play an alcoholic in "Push" this weekend.) I loved watching her use the everyday objects around her to construct her elaborate fantasy world and the fact that as impudent as young Coraline can often be, the single thing that appears to irk her the most is that people in the real world too often address her as "Caroline."

In case you can't tell by now, I rather unconditionally loved this flick, and it was only after taking off those goofy glasses and returning to my own reality that I began to wonder just who this movie was intended for. Enchanting enough for kids but perhaps a tad too scary, it's probably aimed mostly at grown-up geeks like me, and I'm not sure that's enough of an audience to make this anything approaching a box-office winner.

In fact, a quick visit to Box Office Mojo revealed that on Friday it took in a respectable-but-not-great haul of about $4.5 million, far behind the $10.5 million or so of "He's Just Not That Into You" but thankfully a full million ahead of Steve Martin's latest attempt to crap all over the career of Peter Sellers.

My advice is simply that if you like going to the movies to escape for a little while and be thoroughly enchanted by a movie that's as visually stunning as it is simply entertaining, go see "Coraline," and if you can, certainly see it in 3-D. Peace out.


Ashok said...

It was indeed a great 3D experience and have to be the best so far for me. But I was not absorbed as the end neared. Especially once they extend the story a little more for little Coraline to go back again for being that saviour. A great work of 3D animation but not a good story telling in my opinion.

Reel Fanatic said...

I can see what you mean about the story at least starting to wear thin by the end, Ashok, but it still kept me engaged until the very end, which I though was just charming

Mercurie said...

I'm glad you liked Coraline. I have been looking forward to it for sometime, but didn't have time to catch it this weekend.

Ashok said...

By the way, "Push" is surprisingly good. The trailer and tag line does not do justice to the film.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm surprised to hear that, Ashok, but since I trust your opinion I think I'll check it out tomorrow (I'm off this week, probably not the best timing with layoffs coming very soon)

Derryl Murphy said...

Both boys loved the movie (one is not-quite-10, the other 12), as did my wife and I. But after seeing it, I worry that every other 3D movie coming this year will be so bloody over the top with the 3D, as opposed to the remarkable subtlety that Selick demonstrated.


Reel Fanatic said...

You may well be right there, Derryl .. I'm glad to hear the younguns liked this one as much as I did ... The thing that really bugs me is that Pixar has already announced that ALL of its animated films from now on will be released in 3D ... I don't see how that can be anything but way-too-overkill