Friday, February 6, 2009

The Nightmare Before Dinner [Coraline]

Grade: B
Cast: (voice) Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher
Director: Henry Selick

With an eye to innovation, Coraline impressively stitches together the old and the new in a three-dimensional doll house of animation.

The film bravely combines modern stereoscopic filming techniques with old -fashioned figurines and stop-gap animation, creating a smooth CG-like veneer. The effect creates dark, brilliant other worlds, and it never once occurs to you that these characters are small dolls.However, I kept hoping the story would rise the level of creativity. It never quite did. Despite all the technical razzmatazz, Coraline’s adventures are merely watchable.

Based on a story by Neil Gaiman, this is a fantasy scamper of tween-girl neurosis, as seen through the eyes of Coraline, a bratty girl bordering on teen age. Her parents, a hassling mom and a sheepish dad, have moved the family to a glum country home. There, she meets a dorky boy, with whom she forges a pre-sexual friendship. Out of boredom, she soon explores the creeky house and finds a secret passage.

And so after a mysterious voodoo doll arrives, Coraline becomes a fantasy scamper down an eerie hole in the wall. In a fantasy world on the other side, she finds a perfect copy of her family. Except this mom and dad are life-size dolls with doll-button eyes.

Everything in this world is perfect. Perfect food. Perfect parents. Rose gardens and circus shows are made specifically for her. It’s everything she could wish for. But, as the incomparably accurate tagline says, you must be careful what you wish for. Thefilm is a cautionary tale of the narcissism of spoiled children.

The director, Henry Selick, worked on The Nightmare Before Christmas, and the style of the film is similiarly macabre. Coraline looks like another visit to Tim Burton’s imagination (but with less outright zaniness). The film imagines two distinct world, the shiny fantasy and the muddy reality. It shows creativity to burn. Yet while posing more depth than most animated stories, the story never fully lives up to the atmosphere.

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