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E.C. McMullen Jr.
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CEDO LOOKED LIKE PEOPLE
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A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
Ugh, getting uprooted from the place where you have your best friends to a dreary rain-sotted muddy dump in the middle of nowhere. Why do parents DO this to a kid? Especially THEIR OWN kid?
That's Coraline (Dakota Fanning: WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005), not Caroline. Oh sure, the house looks interesting enough - pink? Oddball, yeah. But it's not her house. Her family shares it with other people. Strangers. Those two old dog ladies, Miss Spink (Jennifer Saunders) and the overly buxom Miss Forcible (Dawn French: HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN) who live beneath and one wire-haired blue-skin Russian guy, Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane: DEATH RACE ), who lives above in the attic. They seem nice enough but there's no one who is Coraline Jones' age. Well there's that nerdy kid, Wybie Lovatt (Robert Bailey Jr.: DRAGONFLY, THE HAPPENING) whose always keeping his head down like someone is about to knock his block off. He follows Coraline around and she isn't sure if she likes it. It would be different if he wasn't so weird and didn't come off more like a stalker than someone who wanted to be a friend.
The worst part in Coraline's life is her own parents. Mother (Teri Hatcher: FEVER) is busy in the kitchen at her computer. Father (John Hodgman) is busy in his office on his computer. They are both writing about gardening and plants but neither of them actually garden or want to help Coraline plant plants. They don't even want to touch dirt! Everything is leading up to a very bored young girl who is looking for something to do where nothing can be found. Which means trouble.
Trouble comes in the form of a mysterious door that was wall-papered over. Wybie says that his Grandma lost her sister in the house.
You mean she's dead?
No one knows. No one ever found the body. She's just lost.
Coraline cajols her Mother into getting the key that opens the lock to the papered off little door. Such a small door, that even Coraline has to get down on all fours to go through it. But when Mother opens the mysterious door, the other side is only a brick wall.
The one possibly interesting mystery in her life is gone. Outside the sky is grey, Wybie and his cat keep coming around through the fog and mud but can never stay to play, and life for Coraline is dull. Oh sure, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible have stories of their bygone days when they were entertainers. Mr. Bobinsky has stories of his bygone days when he ran a mouse circus, but no one has anything going on now. Everyone is as colorless as the grey outdoors.
Then Wybie gives Coraline a black button-eyed doll. He says its old but the thing is, it looks just like Coraline.
That night, Coraline wakes from sleep to see a kangaroo mouse hop out of her room and down the stairs. It hops into the living room and squeezes through a crack left by the not quite shut tiny door in the wall. Coraline opens the door, but instead of finding bricks, finds a soft tunnel that leads to another door. When she gets to the other side and opens that door, she discovers that...
Well, she's right back in her living room in her new house. But wait. Something smells good and its coming from the kitchen. Father always cooks and he never cooks anything good. Coraline follows her nose to find her Mother cooking up a wonderful dinner. Then Mother turns around and she looks like Mother in every respect except she has, very creepily, black buttons for eyes. "Who are you?" Coraline asks. "I'm your Mother," The woman answers in her Mother's voice.
Coraline: "My Mother doesn't have buttons for eyes."
Despite the oddity of button eyes, everything else is just wonderful in Coraline's Other house. It's a button-eyed house that exists in a button-eyed world. Other Father plays the piano with the help of piano hands. He planted a wonderful garden and, when Coraline takes flight on his button-eyed Praying Mantis machine, she sees a face in the garden that makes her believe that this Other Family, despite their button eyes, is the better family. They want to do everything for Coraline, spend all of their time with her and, when they aren't with her, its only because they are busy doing something for her.
Other Wybie doesn't chatter on about his nerdy things because Other Mother "fixed" him for Coraline. She thought Coraline would like Wybie better that way.
Other Miss Spink and Miss Forcible still have their bygone show, and it plays inside a vast auditorium beneath the house to an audience filled with dogs. On top of the house, Other Mr. Bobinsky has a bright and colorful mouse circus loaded with magic tricks and cannons that shoot cotton candy. When Coraline finally goes to sleep, she wakes up in her real house. She tries to tell her parents about her wonderful dream and her Other Mother and Father, but they are too busy to listen. What little they do hear, they don't believe.
Coraline goes back and forth between the two families - those who are busy working to make a living, and those who are busy working to make Coraline happy. Until one day she decides that she likes her Other Family more and asks them if she can stay. Other Mother and Other Father are delighted and welcome her with open arms. And now that she's part of this Other world, she only has to do one more thing to make it all complete.
And there you go. That took you through the trailer, but what you may not know is when watching this on a huge theater screen in 3D? All those cute little kid creepy innocent button touches really get under your skin. And the more you see it, the worse it seems. And yet there is an imaginative world here as well.
The wonderment that director Henry Selick (THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS) creates, along with a moving score by Bruno Coulais (THE CRIMSON RIVERS, BELPHÉGOR, VIDOCQ, HELLPHONE) gives Coraline a much needed lift to this otherwise dark tale. As an adult, I gradually allowed myself to be drawn into Selick's world from the point of view of a child, and as I did, the movie became more and more nightmarish. At one point in the theater, I heard someone walk past me (I was in the first balcony, close to the screen) as the very young voice of the boy child said, "This scares me, Daddy! I don't like it!" And it was still leading up to the scary part.
CORALINE tells the tale of a young girl's self-tragic realization that the real world doesn't exist for her alone.
The neighbors both upstairs and below also drive home the point that, if you're not careful, the world will pass you by leaving you with fading memories and no way to catch up to it again.
Coraline has a sneaking suspicion that the Otherworld isn't all it seems. But Other Mother and Other Father keep shoving amazements and wonderments at her. They give her creatures and moonbeams, firework gardens and snapdragon flowers that look like real dragons that you can feed. Coraline wants to live with an Other Mother that warbles only sweet things, promises glowing happy futures, and spends her time adoring her. Other Mother is all sunshine and optimism and offers Coraline the hope and change she can't find in her own world. Unfortunately, the Otherworld has its own terrible reality, and the only way Coraline can blind herself to it is if she trades her eyes for buttons.
There is only one other creature that, like Coraline, has no mimic in the Otherworld and that's Wybie's cat. Even in the Other world, he retains his cat eyes. Except in the Other world, the cat can also talk (voice of Keith David: THE THING, THEY LIVE, THE PUPPET MASTERS, PITCH BLACK, FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN, KAENA), and his questions draw attention to the disturbing things in the Otherworld that Coraline wants to ignore.
Such stories as Neil Gaiman's CORALINE, tales where children find an illusion of better lives on their own than what they have at home, have been around seemingly forever. The stories always involve the child's own house or property and a wall or door or closet or some part of the house that opens to another world. From Alice in Wonderland and her journey through the Looking Glass to Dorothy whose house was carried off in a tornado in The Wizard of Oz. From The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe to Where the Wild Things Are to Time Bandits, The Labyrinth, Jumanji, The Spiderwick Chronicles, and more. And that includes stories that come dangerously close to CORALINE like Clive Barker's THE THIEF OF ALWAYS. Such tales are their own subgenre of fantasy and there seems to be no limit to the imaginative places the children in such stories can go.
Selick, who also adapted Neil Gaiman's book for the screen, tells a wonderful tale for young and old alike and, so far, this is the best 3D movie I've ever seen. Cinematographer, Pete Kozachik (THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, THE CORPSE BRIDE) created a pitch perfect tone for the whole movie. Kudos must also go to the artists who worked to create the worlds of Coraline. Wow! It looks like 3D may finally take hold in cinema! If anyone wonders how to do a 3D movie right, start with Henry Selick's CORALINE.
4 Shriek Girls.
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