Coraline Directed and adapted for the screen by Henry Selick From the novella by Neil Gaiman More often than not, big-screen adaptations of well-known literary works pretty much fall into two different camps, proving what I call 'The Potter Principle.' If a screenwriter and director try to follow the original book too closely, you get Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. On the other hand, if a filmmaker tries to push the envelope a bit, while staying true to the spirit of the source material, you get something like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. If you're a fan of Neil Gaiman's creepy 2002 children's novella Coraline, you're probably wondering what to expect from the upcoming theatrical version, which has been adapted by Henry (The Nightmare before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach) Selick. I'm happy to report that this film falls squarely into the latter category. While it stays faithful to the original in just about every way that counts, Selick isn't afraid to put his own distinctive stamp on it either. That fact is evident from the opening credit sequence, which follows a rag doll being dismembered and subsequently rebuilt by an unseen creature whose nature is hinted at by the giant spidery hand seen performing the operation. We don't really know what's going on here, but the sequence is still as unsettling as hell. Cut to the arrival of rebellious teenager Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) and her parents (Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman) arriving at their new digs in the Pink Palace apartments somewhere in the rain-soaked Pacific Northwest. While Mom and Dad immediately break out their laptops to start working on an upcoming garden catalogue that's nearing deadline, Coraline is left to her own devices and starts going stir crazy within about five minutes. She's not happy about leaving her friends behind, and is none too thrilled with her new neighbors, which include an annoying kid named Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr, a character added by Selick), a beat-up black cat, an aging pair of burlesque performers named Miss Spink and Forcible (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French) and a seven-foot, beet-eating Russian acrobat called Mr. Bobinski (Ian McShane) who appears to be training an entire circus of unseen jumping mice in his upstairs apartment. With her parents still entrenched in their respective computers, Coraline explores the rest of the house, eventually discovering a papered-over door in the living room, which when pried open reveals nothing but bricks on the other side. But later that night, after following a mouse downstairs, Coraline finds that the door is in fact open, and after following a strange tunnel through it, she emerges in a world that is virtually identical to her own. Well, not really. In this alternate world, which is brighter and a hell of a lot more colorful, she discovers that her Other Dad is totally cool; a gardener and musician with a great sense of humor. The Other Mom cooks all her favorite foods and appears to be absolutely devoted to her newly-arrived daughter. They might be the dream parents that Coraline always hoped for, if not for the somewhat disturbing fact that both of them have large black buttons sewed over their eyes. Over the next couple of days, Coraline pays further visits to the Other Home, discovering new and wonderful things each time. There's a less-annoying version of Wybie, mainly because his mouth his sewn shut, but the cat can talk (voiced by Keith David) and begins to hint that all may not be as it seems. But Coraline is too busy exploring her dad's stunningly beautiful garden, or visiting Mr. Bobinski's mouse circus, or sitting in the audience of a performance by Misses Spink and Forcible to notice. It's not until the Other Mother and Father show her the one thing she has to do to stay forever- handing her a box containing a pair of buttons ('Black is traditional!') and a very sharp needle- that this alternate universe begins to lose its charm. It turns out that the Other Mother is in fact a child-stealing creature that has created this entire world out of her own monstrous mind in order to ensnare her would-be daughter, just as she's captured several other children over the past several generations. But she hasn't counted on the resourcefulness of Coraline, who matches wits with the creature in order to return home along with the lost souls of the other missing children… Okay, I've kept details of the final two acts deliberately vague, because I don't want to spoil the surprises for anyone who's been waiting to see the film, and anyone who has read Gaiman's original story pretty much knows what's going to happen. But make no mistake; this is Selick's film from beginning to end. His extra touches range from the sublime (including the wonderful sequence in which Coraline helps the Other Father plant his garden while riding on a combination praying mantis/helicopter/tractor) to the ridiculous (such as Miss Spink and Miss Forcible preserving the memory of their beloved Scottie dogs by having them stuffed and mounted with angel wings on the wall). The Mouse circus sequence is a delight, as is the acrobatic burlesque show, which again I'm not going to spoil for you here. That attention to detail also filters down to the smallest detail in the art design. Look closely at the various sets in Coraline's house and the Other House and you'll see that they first appear to be the same. Look at them further though, and the 'real' sets are deliberately smaller and more cramped to heighten the illusion, while the 'other' sets are wider and more comfortable. The characters even move differently in one set versus the other. If you're a stop-motion geek like me, this stuff will blow your mind. Did I mention that Coraline is also being shown in 3D? Or that this is the first 3D film that didn't give me a headache? Selick knows his way around the 3D arena, but he doesn't beat the audience over the head with it with over-intrusive, objects-sticking-out-of-the-movie-screen crap that one normally has to suffer through in these films. I'm still not convinced that 3D is the wave of the future, but I can now at least see some of the implications of its use. Finally, before I forget a word about the voice actors who were cast in this film. One of my pet peeves with a lot of high-profile animated films in recent years is the use of star names that seem to have been enlisted purely so they can shill for the project on Jay Leno. In this case, I was hard-pressed to say, 'Gosh, that sounds like Teri Hatcher, or the guy from the MAC vs. PC commercials!' A good actor is supposed to remain invisible even when playing an animated character. As I said, I don't want to spoil anything by giving too much away, and I'm sure future reviewers will have a lot more to say on this site in the coming weeks. Suffice to say that if you're a fan of Gaiman, Selick, stop-motion, jumping mice or stuffed Scotty dogs with angel wings, this is the film for you. If not, you probably gave up reading this review about a dozen paragraphs back anyway, so it doesn't really matter. Submitted for your approval, Gaspode
Dec. 17, 2008, 8:35 a.m. CST
2 for 2
Dec. 17, 2008, 8:36 a.m. CST
I don't think anything will be on the scale of the Delgo debacle but I have to say that I haven't really heard about this film at all. I guess the question that I'll never understand are films where a lot of money is spent on them but then the makers give up on the extra investment needed to market their film, often effectively writing off most of the money that they've already spent. I guess in some of those cases though, they know there's no point. <p> Hopefully this film will do OK to justify the expense.
Dec. 17, 2008, 8:49 a.m. CST
..."seven-foot, beet-eating Russian acrobat called Mr. Bobinski (Ian McShane)"<br> That would be a cool name for a band, by the way. "Now in stores: The new album from Seven-Foot Beet-Eating Russian Acrobat Called Mr. Bobinski (Ian McShane)"
Dec. 17, 2008, 8:53 a.m. CST
from Jack Skellington to Steve Zissou's tiger shark he's great. I'll be there. So looking forward to this and Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are in 09
Dec. 17, 2008, 8:56 a.m. CST
And the BNAT crowd only got 20 minutes? Uh-oh, I better stop. I'm in danger of sounding like an "overentitled cunt.
Dec. 17, 2008, 9:22 a.m. CST
The same one from 'The Daily Show'?
Dec. 17, 2008, 10:10 a.m. CST
Wasn't a fan of James and the Giant Peach and Monkeybone sucked, so it's been a while for him.
Dec. 17, 2008, 10:29 a.m. CST
by Mel Gibsteinberg
What happened with BNAT? Its now Wednesday following the big event, and still no article from the big guy, or Moriarty (and he's leaving as well?). Sounds like some were dissapointed and trying to put on a good face. <P>Correction, they were not dissapointed in the outcome, yes yes, there was good stuff, just dissapointed in what it could have been and what ended up dropping out.
Dec. 17, 2008, 10:30 a.m. CST
not sure how it will work on live action films but it's great for CG ones and it probably works well for this.
Dec. 17, 2008, 11:02 a.m. CST
Good review Gaspode. I'm not sure I'd have the grapes to send anything in with the blood still in the water from the whole Doughboy incident.
Dec. 17, 2008, 11:38 a.m. CST
by I am the most horrible
Reminder that Selick will be a guest on Live Wire! radio variety show Friday Dec. 19th at the Aladdin Theater in Portland OR.<p> Details at livewireradioDOT org
Dec. 17, 2008, 11:57 a.m. CST
by Cap'n Jack
the book takes place in the fucking UK.
Dec. 17, 2008, 12:01 p.m. CST
Just curious. Looks like CGI made to look like traditional. I know of quite a few plug-ins for various CGI packages that actually put in the stop-motion strobing effects. And of course any good Renderman programmer can do this.
Dec. 17, 2008, 12:33 p.m. CST
Are you unfamiliar with Henry Selick? Maybe you're just trying to be funny or stir shit up. What you're saying is like suggesting that some respected guitarist actually just created all of his solos note by note on some drag-and-drop music creation software.
Dec. 17, 2008, 1:49 p.m. CST
Actually, Broose, Henry Selick directed the short animated film "Moongirl" up at Laika, and that was CG. So he has experimented with the form. However, if you take a look at all those "Coraline" behind-the-scenes videos that were posted on Rotten Tomatoes a couple of months ago, it's clear that this movie is stop-motion.
Dec. 17, 2008, 2:35 p.m. CST
I've been wanting to see Coraline for a while now. I misread the review. I thought it said that David Keith was doing the voice of the cat and I thought "Hey he really does disappear in his voice work..."
Dec. 17, 2008, 3:22 p.m. CST
At least I theeenk so. This is CG-simulated stop-motion, not the real McCoy. Not that I'm necessarily against that if it gives Selick more tricks to fath around with.<p> Great review, Gaspode! And I'm not just saying that in comparison to a certain someone's Spirit write-up. When you're creating your own little world like Selick, it's pretty fucking important being able to write your own script and go wherever your imagination takes you. So I'm kinda glad this steers away from Gaiman's book a little. Especially considering it doesn't do so to homogenize the material, but more to add more colour (is that the right word for something this murky) to the world.
Dec. 17, 2008, 3:38 p.m. CST
What part of "stop motion" don't you understand?
Dec. 17, 2008, 4:29 p.m. CST
Easy tiger, I said I wasn't sure. I just remember an interview here with Selick where I thought he said it was CGI stop motion, as opposed to him just playing with dolls.
Dec. 17, 2008, 4:36 p.m. CST
They changed so much. BUT I still think this will be excellent. It's good enough for Neil it's good enough for me. Keith David!!!!!
Dec. 17, 2008, 5:49 p.m. CST
You see how it's done? You don't need a rambling epic. Get in, tell us enough about the movie to get our mouths watering, give an opinion and then get out.<p>I will see this.
Dec. 17, 2008, 6:14 p.m. CST
hope its as good as all that, we'll all be very happy
Dec. 17, 2008, 6:32 p.m. CST
I'm not a fan of stop motion.
Dec. 17, 2008, 7:59 p.m. CST
if by "CGI-Stop motion" they mean cgi-enhanced stop motion. Aren't most movies now enhanced with one form of digital effects or another? Extended sets and all that?<p>They may have animated genuine puppets and simply extended the sets with cgi or they may have scanned maquettes and moved them digitally, who knows? Guess we'll have to wait for the Cinemagic article. Regardless, this looks great.
Dec. 17, 2008, 11:50 p.m. CST
You have to change his books to make a proper film. So far, nothing derived from his work has been any good. I don't have much hope for this. Gaiman's characters seem to be puppets of plot and gimmickry rather than real people. I'd love to be wrong and for this to be good, though.
Dec. 18, 2008, 1:07 a.m. CST
I'm afraid you are mistaken when saying that nothing derived from Gaiman's work has been any good. Neverwhere was turned into a tv show by the bbc in the 90's and was excellent - probably a bit dated now, but I enjoyed both the book and the show
Dec. 18, 2008, 1:43 a.m. CST
I haven't seen Neverwhere. You might be right.
Dec. 18, 2008, 9:50 a.m. CST
by Snake Foreskin
His vision takes the creepiness out of the story altogether. The art direction and animation is all wrong. It does not do the book justice AT ALL. What a missed opportunity.
Dec. 18, 2008, 11:28 a.m. CST
Sorry, I always wanted to call someone out as a plant. I didn't even read the fucking review. Ha ha.
Dec. 18, 2008, 11:40 a.m. CST
and the little puppy is all sad!
Dec. 18, 2008, 12:57 p.m. CST
it was a work in progress but it was even beautiful to watch then. I can't wait to see the final product (especially what they end up doing with the burlesque scene as it was pretty risque for a kids film) even though the subject matter wasn't really up my alley.