Coraline (2009) Dir. Henry Selick

Movies at the speed of Sky

The eponymous heroine poses outside the Pink Palace apartments
Nope, I didn’t see it in 3D…

Being a kid can be very scary. No one takes you seriously, your parents are too busy to notice you, and it leaves you open to all kinds of weird fantasies that are almost too creepy for broadcast. Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Good Omens) excells in this sort of fairytale, which has been adapted by Henry Selick into a gorgeous peice of ‘real’ (puppet) animation which only seems to use CGI to enhance any weirdness. Selick also directed Nightmare Before Christmas, which was a Tim Burton extravaganza way back in the mid-1990s. It’s safe to say he’s surpassed that little guilty seasonal pleasure, as with Coraline he’s cut down on the songs (although the music is still glorious) and developed Gaiman’s eerie fable into something very special. To be honest, I’m amazed Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy) wasn’t involved.


Coraline herself (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is a stubborn, much-ignored eleven year old girl, whose parents moved from Michigan to the Pink Palace apartment building in Oregon, to write up their plant catalogue. The don’t seem to feed her much, and spend all their time on their computers while she wants to dig her garden in the rain. Coraline explored the new building out of boredom and comes across several eccentric neighbours and a small, locked door. Before you can say ‘don’t go in there!’, she’s dreamed her way through the brick wall where a tunnel takes her to a better, ‘other’ version of her new home, complete with more attentive and exciting parents. Every creature in the Other world (including the ‘other’ parents) have creepy black buttons for eyes, but apart from that it’s all fabulous!

Other mother (creepy button eyes!) 
and real mother (writes about mulch), 
both perfectly voiced by Teri Hatcher!

After several nights of visiting the Other world, Coraline wants to stay on, but there’s a big catch. There’s always a catch. It involves a needle, thread, a spare pair of buttons and her eyeballs. She barely escapes, but now her Real Parents are missing, and she’s being chased by a fearsome being called the beldam, which has needles for fingers and a taste for little kids’ souls. Coraline needs to use all her ingenuity and bravery, and maybe a little help from a talking black cat (Keith David), to escape the monster and free her parents.This battle won’t be easily won, as old monsters can be very tricky.

Part coming of age story, and a gateway both to and from childhood, I found Coraline a lot better than it appeared in the trailers. It’s incredibly imaginative and very detailed. There’s plenty for adults to soak up, too, and a staggering amount of naked puppet flesh appears when we meet the eccentric theatre ladies (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French)! Also listen out for Ian McShane putting on a bolshy Russian accent as Mr Bobinsky, a former athlete and the upstairs tennant, who claims to have a mouse circus in his room! Coraline’s world never seems entirely safe, and things even get a little Silent Hill as the beldam’s fantasy trap starts to unravel, and the walls of the house start rotting into nothing around her.

I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know exactly how much of this wonder is down toNeil Gaiman, but there’s a fabulous collaboration taking place here and Gaiman easily surpasses Tim Burton’s clunking Alice in Wonderland from this year. While there’s no ignoring the Alice in Wonderland comparisons – there’s even a cat that can cross between worlds and offers handy advice, fer crying out loud – it’s much more like Labyrinth, as both feature a girl learning to grow up without quite forgetting the fantasies that made her who she is. The fantasies don’t quite forget her, either. Neil Gaiman told a similar tale in the earlier, much-ignored Mirrormask; he seems fascinated by the power struggles between mothers and daughters. But I think that with the enthralling, dark and twisting tale of Coraline he gets his story absolutely right.

Unmissable and hugely imaginative, enter a fascinating fantasy world with Coraline and always, always remember to listen to your cat.


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