Henry Selick and Tim Burton need each other. In 1993 they collaborated on a stop-motion film called The Nightmare Before Christmas and created magic. Since then theyíve both separately attempted other stop-motion projects. Burton released Corpse Bride back in 2005 while Selick has done Monkeybone and now Coraline. Of those three it is Coraline that works best, but itís hard not to notice that thereís some vital spark missing. The imagination or fire or whatever the heck you want to call it that made Nightmare come so vibrantly and irrevocably alive isnít found here or in any of those other movies. Coraline tries and sometimes even succeeds, but more often than not itís trapped in a strange limbo, lost between whatís going too far and whatís not far enough.
What Iím getting at here is that I donít know who this movie was made for. Itís almost too dark and twisted for kids. This is after all, the story of a little girl who travels to an alternate world where she meets an alternate version of her parents, who scheme to pluck out her eyes. Thatís the kind of plot thatíll give your toddler nightmares. On the other hand itís not exactly edgy or dense. For adults the tone is incredibly tame, a world filled with sharp colors and not really all that scary villains. A little girl falls down a hole, has a very, very brief adventure and then goes home. The end. Coraline is too much for kids and not enough for adults and so weíre left with a movie which occasionally feels static, dead, and maybe even stiff; like watching a re-animated corpse.
This may be coming off too harsh. There is a lot to like about Coraline. Visually itís an animated feast, full of colorful, creative, and surprising characters dancing and flowing and strutting through Selickís stop-motion world. Stop-motion animation is, even without a story worth telling, compelling. Every frame looks as if itís right there and you can reach out and touch it. That tactile feeling is made even more real than normal, since Coraline is presented in 3D. Part of the magic of stop-motion has always been the depth it gives everything and thatís only heightened by putting on a funny pair of glasses.
Theyíve put together a nice voice cast too. Dakota Fanning is unrecognizable as the voice of the movieís lead Coraline, Ian McShane steals scenes as an acrobatic supporting character, and youíll have a blast listening to John Hodgman plugging away as Coralineís simultaneously weary and witty father. One problem though: Teri Hatcher sucks. Sheís been asked to play the movieís villain and sheís a disaster. Granted the character isnít particularly well written to begin with but her shrieking monotone (who knew such a thing was even possible?) is more annoying than frightening.
Coraline is a lot of fun to look at and itís told creatively in spurts. But only in spurts. Coraline, the movieís plucky little heroine character is the sort that will appeal more to kids except, as discussed earlier, kids will probably be too terrified that their parents are going to rip their eyes out to enjoy her. The story is full of silly logical gaps, of the type you might find in any childrenís story but may be annoying to adults. Perhaps worst of all it doesnít really go anywhere. Coraline survives, so I guess thatís a story of achievement of its own, but these characters needed more growth.
The best praise I can muster in defense of Selickís work is that for adults, itís a pleasant little film. Itís worth your $10 to plop down in a theater and enjoy the whole 3D experience, itís just not particularly memorable. Coraline works as long as you donít expect it to stick with you. Burton and Selick need each other. Get the band back together guys. We need a new Nightmare and though Coraline is nice, youíve done better.
Reviewed By: Josh Tyler