Cast: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, John Hodgeman, Robert Bailey Jr, Ian McShane
Director: Harry Selick
Running time: 100 minutes
At some point when we were young, we always wished we were somewhere else, in a place far away and somewhere much more exhilarating. We wished for different parents, siblings, friends and almost certainly different lives to the ones we had. But, none of us ever thought as far as what would happen if that wishful thinking were to become a reality. In Coraline’s case, she gets a lot more than she bargains for when she goes in search of adventures to places she knows nothing of. What exploits lurk behind that mysteriously small door?
Coraline is a film filled with such imagination and splendour that it’ll remind you of your own childhood. Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, Coraline is a fantastically murky children’s tale of hope, loss and acceptance. I wasn’t a fan of Mirrormask (also written by Gaiman), so was skeptical about the quality of this film. But, when you have Harry Selick (director of Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach) working to a style that everyone recognises (as Tim Burton’s), then I guess little can go wrong. There are some scenes that aren’t particularly made for children, but as you watch them you don’t seem to mind. Sometimes children need to be frightened a little — in order to show the ungrateful heathens what they actually have. In this case, the same goes for Coraline.
The film begins in a similar manner to the book, slowly revealing how Coraline tends to live her life — through exploration, solitude and generally covered in dirt, much to her mother’s disappointment. We follow the leading lady to an abandoned well, where she meets Wybie; an interesting addition to the film not contained with the pages of the original novel. He is a little boy whose grandmother owns the house that Coraline and her parents have now moved to. I’m pretty sure he was added to create the usual male/female symmetry between protagonists in Hollywood productions. Coraline is given a doll by Wybie, one that looks remarkably like her, which she takes back to her house in pursuit of more adventure, which we later find out is a spying tool.
She finds herself back in the house, with very little to do as neither of her parents have time for her because they are always busy working. She is told to explore and count certain things in the house, namely all things blue, the windows and doors – and it is with this that her exploration begins. Whilst counting all the doors, she comes across one that is placed behind the wallpaper which is locked. Upon opening the door, it turns out that there is a brick wall behind it, leaving Coraline somewhat disheartened. During the night, a mouse leads Coraline to the same door which is now some sort of portal, which leads her to her Other House in which almost everything is the same as her old one, but much more fun.
She comes across her Other Mother and Father (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgeman) who have all the time in the world for her and cook great food for her. The story is somewhat compelling in that a small girl is made to go through all of these trials and tribulations, coming across some fairly trippy things along the way: her parents having buttons for eyes, a mouse circus, an entire audience consisting of dogs with angel wings, not to mention the two zany actresses who seem to have the largest, most overpowering breasts known to man! Children’s film? Methinks not. I’m still not entirely sure why this was a necessary feature.
Although Coraline is fairly independent girl, she is much more so in the book — really revealing the extents to which she takes care of herself, going shopping and cooking fast-food meals for herself. It is clear that this sort of message should not be portrayed in a Hollywood film by an 11-year-old, so they tone it down quite a lot for the big screen.
The book is a lot darker and faster paced, which I certainly enjoyed, as they’ve slowed the pace of the film so much that there are moments where you could go and make a cup of tea and not really miss much. The introduction of the doll is a different feature to that of the book, one that’s mostly redundant, but fairly innocuous nonetheless. Something I did chuckle at every time was that everybody seemed to get Coraline’s name wrong, persistently calling her ‘Caroline’. A great ode to adults not really paying much attention to children and always thinking they are right.
The Other Mother seems to reign supreme in the Other World, trapping and abusing people as she sees fit. Since Coraline refuses to have her eyes removed and buttons sewed on instead, the rest of the film is one big journey for her where she must rescue her real parents and the three lost children trapped inside the Other House. I have to admit that it was refreshing to see a child use wit to out-do the evil adult, for a change, rather than sheer blind luck. It really didn’t take Coraline very long before she realised that once she was given everything she desired, life would become boring. This film is a contemplative alternative to your usual children’s production, reminding you to be happy with what you have. Definitely do take a gander at this if you’re looking for that something different – and walk out of the cinema feeling cheery.
“Take comfort in this. Th’art alive. Thou livest.” — Coraline, the novel, by Neil Gaiman.
Coraline gets three and a half out of five.