Cute and warped-that's Coraline in a nutshell. This movie sends mixed messages and creates a metaphor that reinforces the age-old belief pounded into the heads of children that being good will bring you the things you want. But given the twisted approach, Coraline might just be too creepy for kids. Moms and dads will have a lot of explaining to do if they bring the kids. It's definitely dark and there are some real blatant sexual themes, including cartoonish fat old English biddies showing off their scantily clad, enormous hooters. But in addition, moms themselves are depicted in two ways: completely evil or incompetent.
The plot is focused around Coraline (Dakota Fanning in her second appearance in this week's Screen page), Mom (Teri Hatcher), Dad (The Daily Show's John Hodgman) and their questionable move from Michigan to a house right here in Oregon. Her parents, struggling financially, constantly ignore Coraline. Due to her ensuing boredom, she creates a fantasy world finding a portal to a parallel universe where Other-Mother and Other-Father are more fun than a barrel of monkeys. They feed her good and play cool music. The only problem is that they have buttons for eyes, and want her to have the same. Hey, we all sacrifice something for a better life right? Trying to decide on the best course for her dilemma, Coraline goes in and out of dreams and universes, taking us through a circus of wacky characters and some hilarious musical numbers.
Coraline is based on Neil Gaiman's novel, which won the 2002 Bram Stoker Award for Best Work for Young Readers. Director Henry Selik (The Nightmare Before Christmas) spins this dark tale creating a gothic nightmare hidden under the depths of domestic squalor. The never-ending, foreboding overtones rarely leave the screen as Other-Mother's world plays out in progressing frightening installments. Staying ghoulish throughout, there are some unique deaths including one where these "flying hornethumming birds" are annihilated, but they don't bleed, instead turning to dust.
The voice-overs are extremely well cast. There's a know-it-all-cat (Keith David), a crazed Russian gymnast, Mr. Bobinski (Ian McShane, who seems to be having the time of his life) and two super-wacked old ladies Miss Forcible and Miss Spink (Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders) who put on a musical trapeze act that reminded me of Terry Gilliam's animated hijinx from his Monty Python days.
The music shines throughout. John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants delivers Other-Dad's piano song. But the eerie and menacing score by French composer Bruno Coulais incorporates magnificently beautiful music that uses a pastoral boy's choir.
The wizardry of the animation never disappoints but the 3D isn't the deciding factor. Coraline starts off supremely surreal and stays that way. The 3D only invites you to stay in Coraline's world to watch and marvel at all the effects. But what a fun yet disturbing world it is.
Coraline in 3D
Starring Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher John Hodgman, Ian McShane, Keith David. Directed by: Henry Selik