by Neko Pilarcik
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Coraline is a charmingly dark tale of a brave and adventurous little girl who discovers a magical world through a tiny door in her new home. While on the surface this might sound like a rehash of Alice in Wonderland I assure you it is anything but. Adapted from Neil Gaiman’s book of the same name, Coraline is a refreshingly unique tale of adventure and wonder in a world that is as whimsical as it is terrifying. Gaiman has a way of taking your expectations and turning them upside-down, offering many a pleasant and occasionally scary surprise. That fact makes it as good a movie for adults as it is for kids. I’ve seen a lot of animation, from Bambi to anime, from experimental sand animation to CG comedies and it’d been so long since a children’s movie really engaged me that I was beginning to wonder if I’d simply gotten too old. I’m pleased to say Coraline has proven me wrong, between the story and the animation Coraline has a way about it that just draws you in to its world and what a wonderful, fun, spooky world it is!
The film’s heroine, Coraline, is the kind of character you can’t help but cheer for. No Disney princesses here! Coraline is a quick-witted, brave, adventurous little girl who loves digging in the garden, exploring and even slugs. The kind of kid who, much to her parents’ dismay, is always coming home drenched in mud with a scrape or two for her latest adventure. Even when confronted with ghosts and monsters, Coraline, though scared finds it in herself to save the day.
The animation is every bit as wonderful as the story; directed by stop motion master, Henry Selick of The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach fame, and animated by Portland based LAIKA Coraline is a joy to look at. The character and set design is quirky and very cool while the animation is subtle and life-like in a way that many thought couldn’t be achieved with stop motion. It is only made better by the fact that every bit of what you see is handmade, every puppet, every costume, every petal of every flower was crafted and animated by hand. Some might ask, “Why does it matter? Wouldn’t it have been easier to do with a computer?” While that may be true, I don’t think Coraline would have looked nearly as good if it’d been done in CG. There’s a realness to Coraline in its tiny imperfections, the way you can see the brushstrokes in the paint and the stitches in the clothing that helps give it its charm. You just can’t get that out of CG, and why should you try? It’s a different art form, no better or worse, just different. But it’s films like Coraline that remind us why we love those old Rankin Bass Christmas specials like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer or The Year Without Santa Claus and proves that even with all our fancy new technology stop motion is still a wonderful, viable form of filmmaking that definitely deserves to stick around.
I know this is running long but before I go I have to give a nod to the studio that created this wonderful film, LAIKA. Coraline is their first feature but they are by no means new to animation, LAIKA has produced some of the best animated commercials around, from the Mac vs. PC Christmas commercials for Apple to M&M’s and even the They Might Be Giants music video for “That Bastard Wants to Hit Me”. LAIKA blends a unique artistic sensibility with skill in all forms of animation to create commercials that always stand out from the crowd. I’m thrilled to see that they’ve finally brought their passion and creativity to the big screen with Coraline. Way to go guys, keep it up!
Coraline is a truly unique, cool, and fun adventure that I think everyone should see. Little kids, big kids and everyone in between will be pleasantly surprised by this one.
Neko Pilarcik Is a freelance animator and illustrator living in Chicago. She recently directed the animated short The Three Artists which screened at Cannes in 2008.
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