Movie Review: Coraline

Welcome to another movie review at darkinthedark dot com. At some impressionable point in my young monsterhood I had the distinct misfortune to be exposed to a virulently wholesome substance known to mankind as the “After School Special.” These were TV shows where kids would learn that people who misbehave are fated to be confronted by their parents and later be treated in a stern but ultimately loving and forgiving manner. I know I’m not the only one to bear scars from these shows. I recently heard a grown woman complain that every time her mother hugs her, she gets an After-School Special flashback and pulls away. What does this have to do with Coraline? We will soon find out.

Screen shot from Coraline 5

Before I get too deep into the review, I have some things I have to make clear:
1) I read Coraline when it came out and enjoyed it.
2) I avoided all the hype about this movie to the point where I refused to read anything about it or watch any of the trailers. I didn’t even know it was in 3D!
3) Thanks to Pixar and Aardman studios I expect BIG things out of animated movies.

The basic story is that Coraline has just moved with her parents into a rental house that also contains some strange neighbors. Coraline is bored with everyday life and feels neglected by her busy parents. While exploring her new house, she ends up discovering a passage to a sort of mirror world where everything is magical and everyone loves her. In the other world there is an “other mother” and “other father.”

The Other Mother (also known as the Beldam) is a very interesting character. In the beginning of the movie, the Other Mother is actually pretty hot, and seems loving and friendly. The Other mother cooks delicious food and does special things for Coraline. But as the movie goes on, the Other Mother changes, and not for the better.

Coraline Screenshot 4

I think the number one problem with this movie (and with the book) is that its baked-in wholesomeness kills the suspense and makes the proceedings inevitable. While it is offbeat and creepy, underneath all that delicious darkness is a cloying After School Special morality-tale flavored sweetness. I was also left wishing we could find out more about the Other Mother. How old is she and what is she really? At the end the Beldam changes into something resembling a spider.

Here are the good things:

It’s in 3D. This made it really fun. There were parts of the movie where people in the theater (including me) were ooh-ing and ah-ing out loud at the cool 3D. Definitely awesome.

It has some insane and magical spectacles. Whenever I see a Pixar movie or something by Aardman Studios (who do the Wallace and Gromit films) there is inevitably some point where I am shocked and amazed at how imaginative and brilliant they are with their medium. With animation, the sky’s the limit. Coraline has several scenes (all orchestrated by the Other Mother) where they really take full advantage of the medium, especially one featuring the crazy neighbors from downstairs in their theater playing a mermaid and Venus from Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” Just brilliant.

It has some darkness. There is a lot of darkness. Rats, rot, and general darkness. For example, the “other father” becomes imbecilic at the end. Half in a sad way and half in a creepy way. If you know me you know I love the dark.

Coraline screenshot 3

And that’s kind of the way it is. It was good. My friend the Diabolical Doctor Francois liked that one of the main characters was a cat. And this is definitely a movie where if you’re even considering seeing it, you have to have to have to see it in a theater. Otherwise you may as well just not see it. (Update: Go here to download my Papercraft Coraline Doll.)

Creepy Factor: 4 out of 5
Suspense Factor: 2 out of 5
Weird Erotic Tension Factor: 1 out of 5 (unless you’re into old ladies with enormous bosoms in body stockings) Also the Other Mother is kind of hot in a Jan Svankmajer-meets Cruella DeVille way.

Coraline – Based on a book by Neil Gaiman – Directed by Henry Selick – 2009

Purchase Coraline DVDs on Amazon

Don’t miss my central source for information on Coraline: Coraline Central.

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Fhtagn Spoken Here.

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The Shunned House
H.P. Lovecraft




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