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6 reviews, 20 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Buttons And Boos"
5 stars

The problem with too many family-oriented fantasy films, at least those of a recent vintage, is that the people making them are so concerned with making something that won’t upset or disturb younger viewers (or, more accurately, the parents of those younger viewers) that they usually wind up serving them the kind of bland fare that won’t upset anyone and which meshes well with a toy line or a Happy Meal but which isn’t likely to enthrall or entrance them either. At the same time, the problem with a lot of movies deploying the 3-D gimmick, whether during its past incarnations or now in its current vogue, is that the filmmakers tend to spend so much time trying to think of things to toss out at the audience that they neglect to come up with a compelling story to support them. (I dug the recent 3-D remake of “My Bloody Valentine” as a gory thrill ride but if I had seen the flat version, I am pretty sure that I would have found it unendurable.) Since the existence of a film that can avoid one of those traps is a rare creature indeed, it would require some kind of miracle to get one that could somehow overcome both of them. Amazingly, that miracle exists and its name is “Coraline,” a visually stunning family-oriented fantasy that will simultaneously enchant kids and creep out parents with a story and characters so entertaining that even those watching it in 2-D will find it to be an utter delight from start to finish.

Based on the children’s story from acclaimed author Neil Gaiman (whose works have inspired such entertaining films as “Mirrormask” and “Stardust”), “Coraline” follows the misadventures of a spunky, blue-haired girl by the name of Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning), an only child who, as the film opens, has just moved into a remote and run-down boarding house with her parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman), a pair of workaholic garden-catalog-authors who are too busy with their latest tome to pay attention to their daughter, let alone actually have a garden of their own. To make matters worse, with the exception of a single odd little boy, Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.), there is no one in the boarding house who is even close to her age--her neighbors include retired actresses Miss Spink (Jennifer Saunders) and Miss Forcible (Dawn French) and Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane), a Russian acrobat who now owns and operates a circus populated entirely by mice. As a result, Coraline is resentful and bored out of her skull, so when she discovers a mysterious sealed-off doorway in a wall, it is almost inevitable that she will not rest until she gets it opened and sees what is on the other side.

What she discovers is a parallel dimension in which all of her dreams seems to have come true--her parents are warm and incredibly attentive, a beautiful garden flourishes out back and every meal is a feast of delicious treats. The only odd note is that everyone she encounters has big black buttons where their eyes should be. At first, Coraline sees this world as a paradise that she can go to whenever she wants and fails to heed the warnings of a cat (Keith David) who tries to warn her that things aren’t quite what they seem. That becomes abundantly clear when Coraline’s Other Mother informs her that she is to live in the alternate universe forever and must seal the deal by sewing buttons onto her own eyes. At this point, Coraline finally realizes the danger that she is in and, with the aid of the cat and the alternate versions of her neighbors, she struggles to outwit her Other Mother, rescue her actual parents and escape back to her real home.

On the surface, “Coraline” tells a familiar story reminding children to be themselves, to be careful of what they wish for (lest those things come true) and to remember that, in many cases, there is indeed no place like home. However, anyone going into the film expecting a simple-minded, easy-to-digest and vaguely condescending morality tale will doubtlessly be stunned by the darker and deeper approach that it takes. For starters, this isn’t a story that features an eternally cheery and adorable tyke going up against a bunch of obvious meanies. For a good portion of the film, Coraline is a rather petulant and somewhat unreasonable little girl who pouts about everything and who fails to understand that the entire world doesn’t entirely revolve around her--in other words, she acts like a normal child whom kids in the audience will presumably respond to, even if they don’t immediately recognize any parallels between her and them. For another, the parallel Other world is an undeniably seductive place but one whose lures are subtle yet insidious--after eating indifferently prepared glop served by disinterested parents, who wouldn’t be enthralled by the sight, smell and taste of a perfectly roasted chicken dinner?

At the same time, once Coraline’s tale takes its darker turn once, it quickly becomes evident that the film is not kidding around in the myriad ways that it illustrates the perils of getting what you want all the time in ways that do get under the skin without overdoing the moralizing or making it too scary for the kids. (In fact, one of the most fascinating elements that it uses to ratchet up the tension is the brilliantly insidious score composed by Bruno Coulais, one of the best pieces of film music to come along in a long time.) The vocal performances are also highly impressive as well--instead of going for the most marketable names, the roles have been filled with good actors with just the right voices for the characters. (While everyone does excellent work, the show is pretty much stolen by Teri Hatcher, who gets to simultaneously play an evil pseudo-mother figure as fearsome as any evil step mom to grace the silver screen and gently skewer her “Desperate Housewives” persona in ways that should have older audience members chuckling.)

From a visual standpoint, every frame of “Coraline” is stunning to behold--even the throwaway moments, such as an eye-popping shot of an auditorium in which every seat is filled with its own individual stop-motion dog, are more memorable than the biggest money shots conjured up by most effects-heavy films. “Coraline” was directed by Henry Selick, whose previous efforts have included “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “James and the Giant Peach,” and like those earlier masterpieces, the stop-motion world that he and his army of animators have created is a beautifully realized and wonderfully detailed environment with the kind of tactile and ramshackle charm that just cannot be achieved through the slick but often soulless world of CG animation. The 3-D is also pretty impressive as well, partly because it is so technically extraordinary and partly because Selick deploys the gimmick in a smartly restrained manner--unlike a lot of people working in the 3-D format, Selick, like Alfred Hitchcock before him, realizes that the format is most effective when you don’t spend the entire time tossing things at the camera. Instead, he uses the format to help immerse us in Coraline’s world, a move that draws us more effectively into the story and allows the bigger 3-D effects that he has in store to have an even bigger impact than they might have otherwise had.

As I said before, “Coraline” is a great family film but because of its decidedly darker visual and narrative approaches, some people have questioned its commercial viability by suggesting that it might be too scary for kids and too juvenile for grownups. To these non-buttoned eyes, I would suggest that while it may be a little too intense for the youngest potential audience members (it is rated PG for a reason), I would say that there is nothing here that you average seven-year-old couldn’t handle. At the same time, there is so much going on here, both in terms of the story and the visual delights on display, that older viewers will find themselves just as spellbound as the kids. Besides, it should be pointed out that “The Nightmare Before Christmas” faced similar concerns when it came out and it is now considered a bona-fide classic for audiences of all ages. While “Coraline” may never achieve the same level of public acceptance as that classic (mostly because it isn’t a musical and lacks the holiday hook that would help expose it annually to new audiences), it is such a wonderful work of pure cinema that it easily earns the comparison and my guess is that it will one day earn a similar designation as a cult classic that works equally well as a family matinee and as a midnight movie.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17039&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/06/09 00:00:00
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User Comments

9/12/17 morris campbell SOILD 4 stars
1/30/16 Alexis H The boogeyman never lets go when it has you in its sight 5 stars
6/06/12 Joe Kucharski Proves Selick can work magic without Burton 5 stars
9/28/11 sarai aguilar love this movie me and my kids they love it i recommend it to anyone who has not seen it 5 stars
5/15/10 brian Feh. Much artistic brilliance in service of a story with too many holes. 3 stars
3/18/10 Wookah! YES!!! 5 stars
3/21/09 james obrien i loved it why not more? 5 stars
3/16/09 Roy Smith The Best Movie of hte Year, really 5 stars
3/08/09 Bayls It freaked me out, everyone was screaming in the theatre, and its a bit disturbing. 2 stars
2/23/09 Anonymous. some really good animation...see it. :] 4 stars
2/21/09 Tim Weakest 3D in a movie. Mostly in the background. Coraline lacks charm. 3 stars
2/17/09 Sally Sundeen LOVED IT LOVED IT LOVED IT! 5 stars
2/17/09 mary ann evans -miller I am 60 years old and my husband and I loved it 5 stars
2/16/09 Smitty Definitely too dark to be a kid's movie but stll a good story. Visually wonderful in 3D. 5 stars
2/15/09 Chris See it in 3D if possible. It's worth the extra cost. 5 stars
2/11/09 Ming This movie is boring..I felt sleep on it 1 stars
2/09/09 Brian Great, great movie. Maybe he'll finally get the recognition he never got for Nightmare. 4 stars
2/09/09 Butt Wait for cable, watch Spirited Away again instead 3 stars
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  06-Feb-2009 (PG)
  DVD: 21-Jul-2009


  DVD: 21-Jul-2009

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