Saturday, February 07, 2009


I hope to write about it in more detail later (I say that a lot, don't I...and usually never follow through), but for now just a quick note expressing my unreserved enthusiasm for Henry Selick's amazing stop-motion animated fantasy Coraline.

Though promoted as some sort of kiddie film, it is more accurately a film about childhood, and it presents the title heroine in all her complexity, plucky, funny and courageous, yes, but also spoiled and self-absorbed. When she enters a parallel dimension in which her life is so much better and her parents so much cooler, she's all too eager to ditch the real world, and Selick is canny enough to seduce the audience as well as Coraline, presenting us with a world of astonishing delights. Even when the mask is dropped and she realizes the price she must pay to live in this world, the movie never cheats--when she returns to reality, it's every bit as boring as before. Now, she must make her own enchantment.

Whether in the mundane real world or the enchanting fantasy one (in which glowing plants bloom in the moonlight, mice perform in a circus and Scottish terriers act as ushers), every single frame of this film is a hand-crafted delight. It has a tactal pleasure, a human element CGI simply can't convey. Though there is dialogue, it is mostly unnecessary (Selick adapted the script from Neil Gaiman's children's novel), as the character's movement alone tells us everything we need to know about them. This is the essence of animation, and maybe the essence of art: It shows us things in ways we've never seen before.

There is so much great stuff here (the only movie I could compare it to while watching was Michael Powell's Tales Of Hoffmann, which is really saying something), from the creepiest opening credit sequence since Seconds to a drop-dead beautiful score by Bruno Coulais to a lengthy sequence (that mouse circus) that seemed to be a tribute to George Pal's Puppetoons. It demands repeated viewings simply for the level of its craftmanship.

But my favorite thing about Coraline? It clearly presents cats as serene, other-worldly creatures, smarter and more sensitive than humans, loving and resourceful and maybe a little bit creepy. A movie like that is completely on my wavelength!