“Coraline” weaves a wondrous story of dark fantasy, horror, and magic that never loses its powerful spell(Retrospective Review)
Written By: Victor DeBonis
(Writer’s Note: As someone who is fairly new to the site and plans to use this site greatly for writing movie reviews and essays related to them and animation, I thought that it would be wise to start sharing some of my past reviews that I’ve done . Given that this is still October at the time that I’m writing this, I thought that it’d be an ideal time to share a past review revolving around one of my favorite movies to watch around this time of year, an animated classic that certainly deserves more attention than it gets. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.)
Whenever the Halloween season is in full bloom, one movie that’s always a staple for me is the 2009 film “Coraline.” Directed by Henry Selick, the same talent who directed “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” this film provides several qualities that make for a classic Halloween family movie on top of being a faithful adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s eerie story (yes, I have read it before seeing this movie and enjoyed it). It’s inventive, holds a heavy amount of creepiness to it, and engulfs itself in environments and an unforgettable story that encapsulates all of the creativity and dark atmosphere that many associate with this holiday. In short, it’s a wonderful film to behold.
The animation is simply amazing. I shook my head with amazement when I observed the detail behind the woven spider webs and vibrant gardens that glowed like a million Christmas lights and colorful backgrounds from the Other World. How much time and effort must it have taken to craft these vast miniature sets and each concise facial expression and unique movement of these characters? Special kudos goes to Selick’s excellent direction for selective use of extreme close-ups to show the heightened anxiety and emotions of its main characters and smoothly moving camera shots that sweep around a room to gain the full scope of the uneasy conflict at hand. Although everything is obviously made from clay in this film, the world and everybody in it feels so alive, thanks to the immensely talented animation team whose hard efforts are shown on clear display here. There’s some excellent use of color, too. The dreary, gray shades from the real world contrast effectively with the bursts of bright red, orange, and green that fill the Other World.
Coraline herself is quite a lovable character. Yes, she’s a bit whiny at the beginning and can be pretty selfish if we’re being completely honest with ourselves. Yet, she somehow never crosses that dangerous line into obnoxious, and she has an adventurous spirit, intelligence, and resourcefulness that makes her a treat to watch have fun or fight the villainous monsters at hand in this movie.
Above all, she holds a definite humanity, a dedication to protect those that she cares about and owes thanks to, and an identifiable situation for any kid who doesn’t feel comfortable in a new environment or feels different from others around her. For all of her complaining, Coraline simply wants a life that feels more colorful and exciting as well as people in her life that are more willing to embrace a happier lifestyle and try to give her more attention and open compassion. It’s important to note, as well, that Dakota Fanning excels in voicing the feisty energy and genuine sincerity of this character. The scenes in which this character cries or sweats in anxiety makes me feel heavily for her terrible predicament, and I’m always rooting for her, especially when she puts on that hat and vows to defeat the wicked foe near the end with little else besides her feisty instincts and keen intelligence to aid her. The side characters are fun, too, with their own quirky interests and distinct voices and personalities. Keith David is especially amusing with his sly, seeming-to-know-more-than-others voice for the black feline in this film. (Side note: I think that David has to be one of the most underrated voice actors out there. Does anybody else agree? I would hope.)
The way that the story illustrates Coraline’s desires and frustrations with her regular life is brilliant, too. Despite what we find out later on, the Other World holds a fun nature and delightful weirdness that seems to represent the fantasy world and fond wishes that many children would crave from such a place: heavenly food, delightful talking animal companions, and a strong feeling that you’re loved and are with your perfect type of people. It’s imaginative and practically makes you wish that you could be there, too, if you didn’t have doubts about what lay ahead.
And, of course, the movie is scary. It can be pretty frightening for younger kids, depending on who’s watching it. I’ve watched this movie several times now, and I still feel a little uneasy glancing at the slowly moving shots of empty places and witnessing the unusual, slithering movements of what comes on screen. The first time that I saw this, I was in a small room completely in the dark, and my heart was seriously thumping harder and harder during the second act. The freakish looking creatures, heavy shadows, and eerie quietness all help to create a suspenseful and terrifying environment and only makes us root more for the main character to succeed. “Coraline” easily joins “Return to Oz” and, arguably, Don Bluth’s work from the 1980’s in appearing as a potential horror/fantasy movie for kids while also still managing to send horror down the spines of quite a few adults, too.
What I might love about the film most of all is that it’s a sincere, dark fairy tale with a timely message of finding the true beauty of what you have and who you’re with, even if the circumstances are less than grand on the surface. As someone who’s been a huge lover of fairy tales since his youngest days, this was a well-crafted, contemporary entry in the genre that I haven’t seen or fallen in love with since, perhaps, 1996’s “Matilda,” and it made me very proud to witness something so beautiful and haunting again, here. We’ve seen plenty of “grass is greener on the other side” stories before, but the heart of the message rings loud, clear, and true from the main character and what she goes through in this tale.
If you have time this Halloween and want a great movie to see in the spirit of the season, see “Coraline.” It’s not talked about as much as “Nightmare Before Christmas” or “Hocus Pocus,” but it’s definitely a more recent Halloween classic that deserves more attention and love. It’s an unforgettable dark fantasy and story, in general, that only some of the most talented animators and dreamers can bring to life.