Coraline Review: A Timeless Children’s Classic
Everybody remembers their first unsettling cinema experience; that moment where the parent sat next to you and the reality of your ‘Sunny D’ life outdoors simply melts away in the presence of a film so spellbinding, entrancing and mildly macabre that you leave the cinema haunted but feeling just a little braver and older for it.
While my personal pant-filling movie of choice was The Witches (Angelica Houston still haunts my dreams to this day – although for arguably more disturbing reasons), the more common answer is – for my generation at least – The Nightmare Before Christmas. Ghoulish whilst oddly beautiful, Henry Selick’s stop motion masterpiece is almost universally and mistakenly attributed to Tim Burton (who served as Producer), but as demonstrated in Coraline, there’s no doubting the true heir to the ‘grim fairytale’ directorial crown.
Adapted from a Neil Gaiman novel he originally wrote to satisfy the imaginative demands of his two young daughters, Coraline follows the titular adventurous tomboy (a frustratingly critic-proof Dakota Fanning) as she moves to a new house with her parents, who are too concerned with work deadlines and finances to pay her much attention.
Before you can mumble ‘Narnia’, Coraline’s found a mysterious blocked door that, when night falls, leads to a parallel world in which her ‘Other Mother’ (Teri Hatcher) is an attentive, dedicated and loving housewife and her ‘Other Father’ the creative, exuberant genius she’s often longed for. The only problem is they both seem to have stitched buttons for eyes. And everything seems just a little too perfect…..
As reality unravels to reveal a decidedly scarier Other Mother, it’s soon clear that it was less a case of tumbling down the Rabbit Hole, as it was spiraling into the Bunny Boiler one.
Gaiman and Selick should be saluted for crafting a merciful alternative to the tweeny bopper craze de jour, and Coraline is a harsh but liberating slap in the face of patronising simpletons Hannah Montana and the High School Musical gang (who, it should be noted, wouldn’t last 3 minutes before being murdered/eaten/ritually defiled in the Other World – cross franchise sequel, anyone?).
In Coraline, the audience has a relatable protagonist that fizzles with spunk, curiosity and bravery in the face of a terrifying (well, for kiddies) situation; the restless spirits of murdered children stuck in limbo, plucked out eyeballs and stitched shut chelsea smiles – it’s not exactly Disney.
Helping elevate and accentuate the whimsical storytelling into something truly memorable though, is the jaw-slackening animation. The first-ever stop-motion animated feature to be conceived and photographed in 3-D, it’s a technological marvel and visual masterpiece. From the colourful duality of the two worlds to a breath-taking, exquisitely rendered finale, it’s clear that this is genuinely unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
And we haven’t even rambled on about the achingly beautiful score (Edward Scissorhands meets Sigur Ros) or the accomplished cast yet (Teri Hatcher in particular showing impressive dexterity, and scaling from soothing mother dearest to full-on psycopathic panto villain with enthusiastic fervour).
As opposed to half-heartedly chucking CGI fairies, dragons and aliens at the screen until the little ‘uns shut up, Selick has produced a film that’s buzzing with energy, imagination, intelligence and a quality rarely seen but badly needed in modern cinema: timelessness.