Coraline (2008)


I’ve said from the beginning not all of the 31 Flavors would be horror movies, or even scary movies. The focus is strictly on movies that help get you into the Halloween spirit. Since most of the selections thus far have been fairly well soaked in blood and viscera, today’s Flavor is one for the whole family: Tim Burton’s hit stop-motion animated feature, Coraline.

Wait…Tim Burton didn’t direct this? Aw what the crap.

Home, sweet home.

The story: Coraline is one bored, blue-haired little girl. Her parents had the audacity to relocate to dreary Oregon, far away from her hometown and friends in Michigan. They take up residence in the ancient Pink Palace Apartments, a big, subdivided estate that already houses an assortment of odd characters. The parental units spend all their time buried in their computers, hard at work on a gardening catalog, leaving Coraline to entertain herself most days. She has a fairly active imagination, but her restlessness can’t be cured by excursions to explore the grounds around the house, nor by visits from nerdy neighbor kid Wybie.

"Mom, you've had enough Facebook for today."

All that changes when Coraline discovers a tiny door concealed under a layer of wallpaper. When opened during the day, it’s sealed up with bricks. But by night the portal reveals a long, glittering corridor to a vibrant, magical world, similar to her own but conspicuously devoid of all the things that frustrate her. The button-eyed versions of her parents in this Other world lavish her with gifts and attention, making Coraline dread more and more her daily return to reality. By the time she realizes there are worse things than boredom, though, it may be too late.

Biggest letdown: I didn’t pay much attention to the ad campaign for Coraline, but I assumed from the stop-motion animation and spooky thematic elements it was a Tim Burton movie. It was in fact directed by Henry Selick, who also directed the vastly superior Nightmare before Christmas, but the lack of Burton’s imprimatur is all too apparent.

So when does Jack Skellington come in?

The pedigree is irrelevant, of course, if the proceedings are enjoyable, but I don’t see much here that will enthrall kids or entertain parents. Granted I have less than no concept of what kids like (and they tend to flee the room when I enter), but I never got the sense that Coraline’s adventures were terribly exciting. When she goes to the Other world, there are some spectacles to be sure (probably much better in 3D) but for the most part the representation of her ideal life boils down to unlimited portions of all the delicious foods her parents and their abysmal cooking skills are unable to provide.

Even if the kiddies are having fun, the grown-ups who accompany them will find themselves without much to chew on. There aren’t many knowing winks to mommies and daddies who might be watching and the motivating forces driving the story are given only cursory attention. The Other world, for example, never once appears legitimately tempting because the Other Mother is portrayed as decidedly sinister from the outset. I haven’t read the Neil Gaiman novel upon which the movie is based, but I’d speculate he built in a bit more ambiguity in that regard. A far better Gaiman adaptation, and one that bears a striking similarity to Coraline, is 2005’s live action fantasy, MirrorMask.

Yeah, that's not creepy at all.

Why you should watch: There are some lovely and elaborate scenes, both in the real world and its fantastical counterpart, and the art of stop-motion never ceases to amaze me. It’s a testament to the animators’ talent that I often found myself lost in the dreamy visuals, unimpressive by CG standards but simply incredible when you think about the painstaking stop-motion animation process.

My favorite part of the whole movie was the very human depiction of Coraline’s struggling parents, voiced by Teri Hatcher and John “Hello, I’m a PC” Hodgman. In one particularly touching scene, Coraline’s mom refuses to buy her a pair of brightly colored gloves to liven up the drab school uniform she’ll have to wear. It’s not because she’s cruel or cheap, she just can’t afford them. When Coraline expresses her resentment, mom flashes the subtlest look of defeat and disappointment in herself before hastily leaving for work.

NSFW.

Memorable Moment: Unlike most parents, the Other Mother knows how to properly execute the “I’m going to count to three” routine. If real-world parents could mimic her technique, a lot of kids would never let it get past two.

Choice quote: “How do you feel about a mustard-ketchup-salsa wrap for lunch?”

About the Rating System

3 Responses to “Coraline (2008)”

  1. […] Coraline – By far the most terrifying movie so far. […]

  2. […] coming to it for the first time. The lifelike kinetics of movies like Frankenweenie and Coraline might make MMP seem quaint or even amateurish. But watch a character in Mad Monster Party pour a […]

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