MOVIE: Coraline (2009)

coralineI’m not generally a big fan of animated films — I’m not sure just why, since I almost always end up loving them when I do sit down and watch them.  But I’m rarely drawn to them intentionally.  Usually when I see an animated film, it’s because somebody else wanted to see it and I went along.  And so was the case with Coraline last weekend.  (The Case with Coraline — sounds like a Nancy Drew mystery. . .  I digress.)

While looking for a movie at the video store Friday night with my husband — one we might both want to see (no easy feat since we have dramatically different tastes in film; by which I mean, he actually likes GOOD movies) — he picked this one up, read over the back of the box, and gave it a little wave in my direction.  I looked up from the box I was looking at, The Thaw starring Val Kilmer and a whole bunch of disgusting insects (more on this in a future post), squinted, and then said, “Go for it,” in part because the only other movie he’d picked up was some kind of rock music documentary, also not typically my go-to genre, and I didn’t want to be there all night trying to find something mutually agreeable.  Besides, at least Coraline looked kinda spooky.  Good pre-Halloween mood setter?  Even if it IS a dorky cartoon?

As it turned out, not five minutes into this totally-not-at-all-dorky movie, I was COMPLETELY  IN LOVE.  The visuals in this film are fantastic — the colors, the shapes, the backgrounds, the characters.  And the story is absolutely great.  And John Hodgman!  JOHN HODGMAN, my friends!  Sigh.  Sigh of dreaminess.  Dreamy sigh.

It tells the story of a little girl, Coraline (not “Caroline”!), who has just moved into a big old house with her parents (Teri Hatcher and The Hodge), gardening writers who apparently hate gardening.  Go figure.  Coraline’s parents are hard at work on their latest book and so have little time for their daughter, who is a smart, creative girl with a lot of energy and interests.  Frustrated by her parents’ seeming neglect and missing her old friends tremendously, Coraline is the perfect target for an evil villain (not sure just what kind of entity she was — not really a ghost; more like  a cross between Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands) who desperately wants a daughter of her own.

The villain takes the form of Coraline’s mother — looking and sounding just like her except for the fact she has black buttons for eyes (like a doll).  She woos Coraline into her alternate reality, complete with “Other” versions of her father and her new friend Wybie, by lavishing her with attention and home-cooked meals, making her beautiful new clothing, and in general feeding right into every need or desire Coraline has ever had.

It’s not long before Coraline begins to realize the true nature of what’s going on, though — not just that the “Other Mother” is a bad entity who wants to steal Coraline (and replace her eyes with buttons too, eep!), but that she’s tried this before on other children and killed them when they did not conform to her wishes.  Eep, again!

Desperate to escape, Coraline finally finds her way back through the little door into her real life, only to find the “Other Mother” has taken her parents and locked them away.  Now, with the help of Wybie’s cat, who is able to travel easily between the two worlds himself, Coraline must craft a plan to rescue her parents, free the spirits of the dead children, and get her life back to the way it was.

Of course, a lot of elements of this story are familiar — it’s not really that different, if you think about it, from It’s a Wonderful Life:   Be careful what you wish for, e.g.  But here, the story is told with such great visuals and characters that it felt completely fresh and exciting to watch.  The animation is stop-motion and super-cool, and though we had the option of watching it in 3-D on the DVD, we went with 2-D instead, in part because my first (and last) 3-D cartoon experience was with last summer’s Up, and I felt that the 3-D had really muted the sharpness of the lines and colors of that film — two of the things I love the most about the look of an animated film.  I think it was the right choice here as well.    Not to keep repeating myself, but the way this film LOOKS is just wonderful.  It uses strange shapes — the bodies of the characters are strange, the shape of the cat, the tilt on the buildings, etc. — and bold, simple colors, and the combination was extremely effective.  The look of the movie gives it a creepy weight that I think the story alone might not have been able to attain.

Overall, I was incredibly impressed with this one!  If you have been putting off seeing it because you’re not that into animated films yourself, I definitely think you should give it a shot.  Recommended, in other words!  Also:  JOHN HODGMAN!!  I’m pretty sure for many of you, I need say no mo’.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre:  Animation
Cast:  Dakota Fanning, John Hodgman, Teri Hatcher, Keith David

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