07 February 2009

At the movies: Coraline.

Young Coraline Jones has just moved, with her distant parents, into the middle floor of the Pink Palace apartments, an old house with mysteries and magic in abundance behind its well-appointed walls. A resourceful and inquisitive young girl, Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) soon discovers a portal to another world, where things are brighter and stranger, and previously lethargic dads become like They Might Be Giants, and everything is exactly right. Except that everyone has buttons instead of eyes…

As with all projects associated with Neil Gaiman (Mirrormask, Beowulf), there is so much imagination running around that it can at times feel flighty and disjointed. No matter, as everything pulls together in classic fairy tale fashion, albeit with a gloriously darker tone than most of what gets processed out as ‘family entertainment.’ Overprotective parents will be freaked out, adventurous kids will adore it. Like all great art, it deals with deep and freaky issues in an entertaining fashion. We get mysterious houses, life lessons, and the chance to turn your back on the world we know and live in and embrace the unknown completely, and it’s nice to have all bases covered. It’s slow to get going, but once it does, it keeps blooming in weirder and more vivid forms.

The 3D effects are used in a subtle fashion, avoiding gimmicks and instead adding depth to the world the animators have created. The inspired voice casting grounds us with Dakota Fanning, allowing excellent supporting work from Ian McShane as a Russian circusmaster who works with jumping mice (who actually look a bit more like kangaroo rats to me, but I digress) and British comedy legends French and Saunders as two actresses living downstairs from the Jones family. As a noble cat, Keith David shines.

Director/adapter Henry Selick remains one of cinema’s true visionaries, building upon the criminally underrated Monkeybone and perennial classic The Nightmare Before Christmas to craft a world that simply seduces the viewer. Color and life become characters in the story, and there’s a moment near the end that looks like a Van Gogh painting come to life- simply staggering.

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