Thursday, December 31, 2009

Home Video: Coraline

Directed by Henry Selick
Released February 6, 2009

Animation provides almost limitless possibilities for expanding the imagination. One of the perks of being able to artificially create a scenario is that it doesn’t need to have any boundaries. Getting inside the mind of a child is especially interesting, because a child’s imagination knows no limits. “Coraline” takes that notion a step further, permitting its plucky heroine to escape from the confines of her boring, friendless life into a parallel universe that at first seems wondrous and ideal, but ultimately proves to be a dangerous alternate reality in which Coraline must ensure that she does not get trapped.

There’s certainly an inventiveness and uniqueness to the world Coraline visits, where people have buttons for eyes and tailor their actions to Coraline’s greatest desires. The excitement displayed on Coraline’s face, and its replacement later by horror and fear, is perhaps the most compelling part of the film. She lives a life where she interacts with precious few people, and her parents have no time for her and no interest in giving her something to do to occupy her time. There is much emphasis on gardening, and it becomes clear in the alternate world that all of the garden-themed writing her parents do is meant to beget a more relaxing lifestyle which can replace work with fulfilling activities like actual gardening itself.

Coraline is a child alone in her world who must seek out more fantastical companions than those in her everyday life. The film can be seen as a kind of children’s version of “Pan’s Labyrinth,” where at times it’s just as terrifying but hardly as violent or truly deadly. It’s also not nearly as complex, but the film uses its animated tools to its advantage. The other world visited by Coraline is a magical, visually dazzling place which really seems like a dreamland. It’s made appropriately creepy by Coraline’s mother’s continual references to herself as her “other mother.”

Coraline’s journey is intriguing, and her trips through the tiny door in her wall to a parallel universe are bizarre and fascinating. Yet the movie isn’t completely stellar. At times it’s a bit too weird for its own good, and doesn’t come to any sound of resounding conclusion. Once Coraline realizes the dangers of her situation, the movie becomes increasingly frightening and comes apart considerably, not just for Coraline but also in terms of its presentation. Even though it’s supposed to be malicious, most of the magic of the movie is lost when everything unfurls and shows its true colors.

Despite its flaws, “Coraline” is still a worthwhile film that demonstrates that not all animated movies have to be comedies or musicals. It’s a film that would certainly scare the pants off young kids who might decide to watch it, and one that still manages to enthrall adults despite its considerably tame PG rating. It’s still worth seeing, but it hardly has the resounding power of Pixar’s recent comedic entries or the dramatic impact of a landmark achievement in animation like “Waltz with Bashir.”


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