It's been way too long since we've seen an elegantly frightening story that makes us widen our eyes with both horror and wonder. But the newly released Coraline is bringing childlike fear back.
This "be careful what you wish for" film follows a bright little blue-haired girl, Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning), into a mysterious new home with an overburdened family, who just can't seem to take a moment away from their work. The frustrated Coraline explores the old building, and discovers a secret door that leads to a perfect parallel universe.
On the other side is a mirror image of her life only everything is tailored to Coraline's liking. The "other" parents are happy and spend their days knitting her sweaters and building elaborate gardens in Coraline's honor. The only rub: nothing is what it seems, and Coraline discovers that the trade-off for this fantastic lifestyle is one pair of eyes. What happens next is a fight to return to her original life, and save her eyes from being buttoned over.
The audience is lured into the story, by a 3D puppet hand, with a gorgeous display of everyday wonders. Paper dragonflies welcome you, with sweet toddler-voiced "hellos," the delights of the perfect universe charms you into lowering your guard, while the spookiness slowly works its way up your spine. The next thing you know, the mesmerizing dancing circus mice have turned into a frightening horror show, and you're stuck outrunning a flock of winged undead dogs that swoop down from overhead. The eerie terror in Coraline is always there unassuming at first, but by the end you're clenching your fists, hoping everyone makes it out of the other dimension, eyes intact.
But while you watch Coraline dodge a seemingly inescapable doom you're being treated to some of the most gorgeous stop-motion animation being made today. Cult favorite director Henry Selick (of Nightmare Before Christmas fame) and his animators have put together a gorgeous 3D film. The fluid puppets practically hop right onto your lap. I dare you not to giggle when the Other Father John ("I'm A PC") Hodgman's takes you for a ride on a giant grasshopper or when his robot piano arms reach out and play an impromptu song on the piano (which was actually sung by John Linnell from They Might Be Giants). Even the hills surrounding the character's home invite the viewer to dive onto the miniature set. And although Coraline is a 3D film, not once did the director resort to cheesy 3D "comin' at cha" techniques. Side note: I read that some theaters were showing Coraline with out the 3D, this would be a huge mistake, see the flick in its full force.
While I had a few issues with the rushed pace of the storytelling, and felt that a few of the secrets behind the parallel world got fumbled in the translation, yet the beauty of teakettle steam made from hairspray and cotton would quickly make me forget a fumble. Also, the Selick added character Wybie, Coraline's counterpart and neighbor boy, did in fact help move the story forward as a film because as Selick said, he couldn't have Coraline talking to herself the entire time. Wybie was an added drop of perspective into the mix, but I enjoyed him mostly because of the horrible things the "other mother" inflicts on his poor mirror-world self.
Overall, it's a wonderful step back to the days when kid stories weren't afraid to scare you a little. The market is so overpopulated with loud CG characters that we've forgotten about the stories that really stick with us, which tend to be elaborate and ultimately scary. Gone our animations that dared to frighten us a la The Secret of NIMH, Nightmare, and Watership Down to name a few. Coraline brings back this delightful mix of fright and fun from the chill-inducing singing children soundtrack (check it out below) to the sawdust stuffed Other Mother spy dolls. Here's hoping Coraline ushers in a return to the goosebumps for the kiddies and the adults as well.