Friday, September 07, 2012


I first expressed this opinion when they were new, but now that I have a dog as well as cats, it's more obvious than ever: Aside from being two of the greatest animated films ever made, Up and Coraline are remarkably species-centric, and your opinion of cats or dogs is likely to color your opinion of either movie.

Consider Up.  It's...I was going to say "sentimental", but that's not quite true.  But certainly, it wears its outsized emotions on its sleeve, and encourages the audience to respond.  Most people cite the opening ten minutes, which quickly illuminate protagonist Carl Fredericksen's wonderful, heartbreaking life, as an emotional highlight, but to me, it's this scene, these lines, that caused me to blubber uncontrollably right there in the theater.

I should mention that this scene is carefully set up, with Carl's discovery that his late wife wanted him to continue to live his life in her absence, so his sudden acceptance of Dug, who'd been begging for his love for the entire movie, is absolutely cathartic.

More than that, though, it's just a dog thing--"I hid under your porch because I love you!"  Who wouldn't want to hug that dog?  And what dog isn't that devoted to its master?  It's why people love dogs.  They're awesome.

As are cats, but in wildly different ways.  There's something about them that is mysterious, unknowable.  Maybe even creepy, as perfectly illustrated by this scene from Coraline.  The terrifying final shot in this sequence is something I've wakened to pretty much every day of my life.

Unlike Dug, who simply wants his master's love, the cat--unnamed, because, as he explains, he knows who he is--is waking Coraline for a specific purpose.  He needs her, and in that sense respects her, but actual affection?  That doesn't really enter into it.

As a movie, Coraline seems to take its cue from the cat.  It's breathtakingly beautiful to behold, and is infinitely wise, but emotionally, it's a little remote.  It's so confident in its sense of purpose that it doesn't seem to care whether the audience follows it or not.  As a piece of filmmaking, it seems to me unquestionably better than Up.  But I don't enjoy it as much.

Whatever other entertainment they provide, the most important lessons we learn from these movies is that dogs are sweet and loveable (even bad dogs can be rehabilitated) and that cats are genuinely otherworldly and do indeed know everything.  That seems about right.