So, did you ever watch The Dark Crystal? If you're a little younger, how about Mirrormask? Well, somewhat like Mirrormask, Coraline is a dark fantasy film written by Neil Gaiman. Like the Dark Crystal, it has puppets and whatnot, and it is so creepy you guys, holy crap. I picked up the film with the Lady over the weekend, and we (by which I mean I) were ecstatic that it had a 3D version complete with little paper glasses with the Coraline logo on it. I have Neil Gaiman's children's book that the film is based upon, but I haven't actually finished it as of yet. There are some differences, I hear, like the inclusion of an entire character, seemingly designed to make the titular character's journey less solitary. Coraline was directed by Henry Selick, who had previously directed Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas and Monkeybone. It features the voice talents of Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman, Ian McShane, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, and Dakota Fanning as Coraline. It's a classic example of the modern fairy tale, and is extremely, insanely creepy.
Coraline Jones is an only child to parents who work from home, but are very busy working anyway. Apparently, they're both writers of some sort, for a gardening magazine or catalogue, even though neither of them garden. They have recently moved into a new house/apartment, a surprisingly large home split into three apartments, shared by two elderly former Burlesque dancers, and a surprisingly agile and fit old Russian dude, who trains mice for a circus. Coraline finds a tiny door in one of the rooms, and with a key from the kitchen, gets it open, only to find it bricked up. In the middle of the night, Coraline is lead back to the door by one of the mice from upstairs. It isn't bricked up anymore, and she crawls through a tunnel into a virtual copy of her home, complete with different versions of her parents. Her Other Mother welcomes her warmly, with food and good cheer (her real mother doesn't cook, and is relatively bitchy). Coraline enjoys her time there until it all gets weird and creepy, like when her Other Mother wants her to sew buttons onto her eyes. The Other Mother kidnaps Coraline's real parents, and she must find them (and the souls/eyes of three ghost children) and escape the Other Mother's web of terror.
The tunnel (as you can see above) reminds me of the tiny door tunnel into the mind of John Malkovitch in the film Being John Malkovitch. Except this tunnel doesn't lead into the mind and memories of a creepy, weird (but talented) actor, but instead to a sort-of-mirror world (it's only sort-of because things aren't physically backwards). It is just as weird, off-putting, and vaguely creepy as Being John Malkovitch though, and it even has some underpinnings of genuine terror. I can't believe that this movie was marketed to children! There's a lot of awful stuff that happens, and it all happens to children. Seriously, there's some messed up stuff that happens here. The Other Mother turns out to be not good at all, no sir, and she does fascinatingly horrible things to those Other versions of Coraline's friends and father. All in the interest of finding a child to call her very own, which she'll ultimately tire of and (or choose specifically for the purpose of) ingesting their essence.
Like all fairy tales, all the great signs are there. A lonely and misunderstood child, parents that are too busy to pay attention to them, relocation to a new place, lack of friends, and a pathological curiosity. When she decides that she may be better off without he real parents, she quickly discovers that her new replacement parents are great on the surface, but that's only because they need to hide their uncompromising horror. These fairy tales always make the child perform tasks and accomplish goals in order to be reunited with her family. Once that happens, they're always extremely grateful to have their parents/loved ones back in their lives, and have a greater appreciation for them.
This film also features some pretty amazing and often times truly breathtaking work in terms of stop-motion animation, as well as the use of 3D. This is the first stop-motion animated film to be shot entirely in 3D, and is also the longest stop-motion film to date (at nearly two hours). It has a similar presentation to the other stop-motion films to have garnered serious attention, like Tim Burton's Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas, as well as James and the Giant Peach. The characters have that unique creepy-fantasy sense to them, as well as a uniquely bleak and fantastic set. It's a pretty huge accomplishment, and must have taken an extremely long time to complete.
It's an amazing fantasy film, as well as an impressive accomplishment in stop-motion animation and 3D filming technology. It's dark, creepy, strange, bizarre, beautiful, funny, and wonderful. It's worth picking up. Try the 3D version at home; it's a little headachey at times, but overall it's a nice effect, and really brings something extra to the experience.
I give it four creepy doomed ghost children out of five, or four creepy acrobatic and possibly irradiated Russian upstairs neighbors out of five.