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making up a song about Coraline

she's a peach, she's a doll,

she's a pal of mine

she's as cute as the button in the eyes

of everyone who ever laid their eyes on Coraline

when she comes around exploring mom and i will never ever make it boring

our eyes will be on Coraline


Many a moon ago, someone of inordinate wisdom told me that wherever the girl with the technicolour hair is is where all the fun is at.  Thanks to the brilliant, hyper-fertile imagination of director Henry Selick set around a story by literary visionary Neil Gaiman, the rest of the world will come to know what I learned ages ago.

Miss Coraline Jones’s story begins as she and her family move into a tottering, remote new house.  Coraline’s parents both work at home, but never have any time for their daughter.  Indeed, the simplest parental duties, like purchasing Coraline’s school clothes, or providing and edible dinner, seem burdensome and out of their grasp.  Left to find her own fun, Coraline visits her eccentric neighbours, Misses Spink and Forcible, a pair of elderly former showgirls retired from their variety days, and Mr. Bobinsky, a Russian former gymnast who serves as ringleader to a circus of mice only he can see, and the only other child in the area, the awkward Wybie.  None of this is enough to keep an imaginative girl like Coraline occupied for long and her boredom leads her to explore her new home.  A small, papered-over door in a wall at first seems like a dead end, but when the parents are asleep, Coraline uses an old skeleton key to open up the door to nowhere which suddenly leads somewhere.  Our cobalt-coiffed heroine trundles down a psychedelic rabbit hole to a world like her own, but where everything is better: Instead of cold, gray surroundings, this Other house is warm and welcoming.  Instead of eating nothing but nasty, slimy meals, cupcakes and full course dinners await her delectation.  Best yet, she doesn’t have to vie for the attention of these parents; the Other Mother and Other Father in this world dote on Coraline and fairly smother her with affection, fulfilling Coraline’s every whim and hanging on her every word.  This Other World is like a dream come true for our girl, but there’s a small catch.  The Other Parents are lovelier, homier versions of Coraline’s mother and father with the small exception of a pair of black buttons where their eyes should be.  The Other Mother’s only condition for Coraline to stay in this wonderful world, where she’ll never be dismissed or ignored as in her real life, is that she allow her own eyes to be replaced by the buttons and become a true Other.  When she hesitates, the Other Mother and the entire Other World employ an array of delightful spectacles to tempt Coraline; breathtaking gardens bloom in her honour, the Other Bobinsky’s true mouse circus and a bawdy show by the Other versions of Spink and Forcible are joyful realities.  There’s even an Other Wybie to keep her company on her Other World travels.  The only one besides Coraline running around without button eyes is a mangy looking black cat who is not what he appears, but then so little in Coraline’s new world is.

Selick’s Coraline is a self-sufficient, resourceful girl, because with such careless parenting, she’s had to be.  Both parents are caught up in their own lives and take their child for granted, at times treating her as an annoyance.  In staying out of their way, Coraline has had to amuse herself and become quite a smart little girl.  She’s young and neglected enough to be dazzled by this amazing world, seemingly custom made for her every desire, yet canny enough to know there’s a catch for all these free wish-granting.  She’s also brave enough to face down the truly frightening Beldam in her own house with little more than her own ingenuity and spunk.  Hooray for a fantastic girl hero that even boys can root for.  However, my only quibble with the film regards Wybie, who isn’t in Gaiman’s original book and serves as benign company for Coraline until the film’s climax.  I didn’t appreciate the notion that the redoubtable Coraline needed help during the film’s frightening climax and for all his clumsy cuteness (- and the fact that he looks like a SuperDeformed chibi version of Neil Gaiman), Wybie is an obvious sop to the boy demographic.  Coraline can hold a film on her own, and considering the whirlwind of wonderful narrative, a fabulous exotic score {by Bruno Coulais, with songs from They Might Be Giants} and spellbinding artistic production, that’s a stunning achievement for a little blue haired girl made of clay.  (- Or a resin compound actually, but you know what I mean.)

Genius this, really.  One of the greatest animated films I’ve ever seen.  The combination of the beautiful purity of Henry Selick’s handmade art combined with the hypnotic story by Neil Gaiman is a match made in heaven.  To risk being struck by lightning, I believe this collaboration far surpasses Selick’s best known work with Tim Burton on The Nightmare Before Christmas.  The crafty, layered universe building of Gaiman’s piece allows Selick to utilise all the aesthetic references at his command.  The retro-looking flatness of the first scenes of the house are inspired by the work of Tadahiro Uesugi, the vertigo-inducing tunnel into the Other World recalls Georgia O’Keefe’s “Circle” paintings, the mouse circus and Spink and Forcible’s stage are giddy Toulouse Lautrec paintings come to life (- with a touch of Terry Gilliam).  The night garden sequence is one of the loveliest things I’ve ever enjoyed on screen, resembling Van Gogh rendered in blindingly colour-saturated pointillism.  For later scenes, when the Other Mother reveals herself as not so much the homey type, the rich colours disappear and we’re plunged into a monochrome abyss perceived by Escher.  Then all if it is in filmed in 3D!  Mind-blowing, glorious stuff.  Not to mention the look and design of our little heroine, with her luminescent sapphire-blue bob fixed from her face with a jaunty dragonfly pin, the shots of Coraline in her bright yellow mackintosh and galoshes and Greek fisherman’s cap are the living end.   One of the gifts from the Other Mother is a fetching sweater ensemble decorated with stars and tiny blue pixie boots, a direct response to an unsuccessful shopping trip with her real mother who wouldn’t even allow Coraline a pair of kicky gloves to spice up her drab uniform.  Drab, Coraline is not.

There is an intangible appeal about stop-motion animation that cannot compare to any other type, whether it is 1933’s King Kong, the shorts of Aardman’s Wallace and Gromit, Selick’s own previous features, or, as Selick called them in our exclusive interview, “Ray Harryhausen’s charming monsters.”  Perhaps it’s the knowledge that these are actual models or dolls being moved painstakingly millimeter after millimeter for weeks and months to get just one scene that gives what you see onscreen an actual breath and a pulse.  There’s something more organic about the process and therefore more involving.  Coraline’s character is so well fleshed out on paper that the attention paid to her amazing amount of facial expressions which register her every thought and inflection and the stunningly realistic movement of her lovely blue hair, only makes us relate to her more closely.  She’s not a doll in danger, she’s Coraline, and in the end, away from the splendour and dazzle of the entire production, that’s the true genius of what Selick’s done; he’s made Coraline into a real girl.


Run to see this, kids.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

February 2nd, 2008


PS: Be sure to check out our delightful chat with Coraline's director, Henry Selick, by clicking here!




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