Film Review: Coraline

28 Apr


There’s always the danger when viewing a children’s film through the jaded, cynical eyes of a thirtysomething that the wonder one might have felt twenty-or-so years ago is too far gone, lost somewhere in the mists of childhood.

I well remember seeing The Jungle Book on the big screen some time in the early 1980s and loving the sheer vitality and colour in front of me. A more recent visit to see Bolt in 3D made me think more about the clever visuals than the slightly thin plot.

While watching the latest 3D animated epic Coraline, my mind was open and ready to be enchanted, the promise of a new film from The Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Sellick based on a novel by Neil Gaiman too intriguing to miss.

Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning) moves with her parents to the remote Pink Palace Apartments in Oregon. While Coraline’s mother (Teri Hatcher) and father (John Hodgman) clearly love their daughter, their obsession with writing distracts them from her boredom, leaving her to roam her new home and surrounding area in the search for adventure.

While on her travels Coraline meets local boy Whybie (Robert Bailey Jr), who lives with his grandmother and looks after local stray cat (Keith David) while warning of the dangers all around them.

Life for Coraline takes a new turn when she discovers a hidden door in one of the rooms of her house, a door which she soon finds leads to the Other world, where alternate versions of her parents live and where it becomes almost too tempting to stay forever…at least if Coraline’s Other mother has her way.

Like The Nightmare Before Christmas before it, Coraline looks sumptuous. Traditional stop motion animation has been given a CGI twist and the results are impeccable, a new world created that comes to life with the added elements of 3D.

Not simply a gimmick, the 3D  complements proceedings and allows the viewers to more easily lose themselves in Gaiman’s imagination.

Where the film starts to falter is in its pacing. While the role of the editor in modern cinema increasingly seems to require fast cutting and the desire to cut to the next scene as quickly as possible, it’s laudable that Coraline bucks this trend by letting scenes play out at length.

The issue here isn’t so much that scenes feel long, rather that the sheer amount of them included in the build up to Coraline’s discovery feels like the plot is being held down with lead weights in the belief that spending an age establishing the Real world will make the Other world more stark.

Oddly, the desire to make Coraline’s everyday world mundane is undermined by the presence of Mister Bobinsky and his acrobatics and Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, the latter pair carrying out what appears to be magic in the forging of Coraline’s candy ring.

While trying to establish what is “real” in a 3D CGI fantasy film can only lead to madness, if magic is in fact real in Coraline’s world then surely the magic on offer in her fantasy world becomes less special, less, well, fantastical?

Pacing also knocks the wind out of the film’s climactic scenes involving the spirits of characters which Coraline must search for. On the page this may well have been tense, but on screen there’s little excitement, just a plodding inevitability that she’ll somehow succeed.

Thankfully the film’s darkness is pitched just right, the ghosts Coraline meets and the idea of sewing buttons on ones eyes certainly nastier than your average kids flick.

Away from the story itself, Dakota Fanning is a fine Coraline, carrying the film with ease. Teri Hatcher is suitably evil as the Other mother while Keith David is a memorable cat.

Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders ham it up as Forcible and Spink and Ian McShane is gloriously OTT as Bobinsky.

Though shot through with humour, Coraline isn’t a comedy, going more for a dark fairytale feel. The uncertainty of tone is one which could cause some confusion amongst viewers of all ages.

Gorgeous to look at but with uneven pacing that will perhaps be forgiven by younger cinema-goers, Coraline is still an enjoyable, occasionally scary watch for the older viewers in the audience, worth catching on the big screen if only to see how far 3D technology has come.

Coraline is on general release from 8 May


One Response to “Film Review: Coraline”

  1. bookwitch 5 May, 2009 at 10:05 am #

    I’m glad to see I’m not the only adult finding it a little slow. I was almost bored, while my (teenage) daughter was terrified. Very weird. Have you read the book? I have, and the film comes nowhere near.

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