Friday 20 November 2009


Why do I find myself having to watch 'children's' films in order to see innovative design, witty scripts and feel moved in some way? We can discuss that together below (although the yawning silence that greeted my request for feedback on Synecdoche, New York was not encouraging - unless you were all playing some kind of sick joke on me and providing me with the only appropriate response to a film like that), let's get on with Coraline. Any fans of Henry Selick's previous stop-frame animation features, James And The Giant Peach and The Nightmare Before Christmas will definitely want to see this as it continues that vein of work, looking slicker and more adventurous than ever without losing any of the charm that comes from using genuine puppets rather than CGI.

Based on Neil Gaiman's book of the same name, the film begins as Coraline moves with her parents to an apartment in a slightly dilapidated house in the country. Basically ignored by her parents she goes exploring finding first a deep well, then a neighbouring boy, Wybie, and then within the house a small door that she later discovers leads to a parallel world, similar to her own but better in every way. Here she meets her 'other' mother and father, again similar but improved and chillingly sporting buttons in place of their eyes. As they try to convince her to stay there rather than return and Wybie tells Coraline more and more about the disappearance of his grandmother's sister she realises the danger she is in and will have to fight hard, with a little help from a feral cat, to get back the family she wants.

Make no mistake, this film is dark. The first half an hour or so is harmless enough but once the plot darkens there are some pretty 'scary images', as the official parental guidance puts it. Which is great of course, I'm all for scaring the pants off kids, but I'd keep the younger ones on some safer fare for the moment. The performances work well , the visuals are striking, the design really beautiful in places, it's easy to see why the critics were so enthusiastic about it. Just get past the slow opening and you'll be rewarded by some stunning work, and a quick glance at the making-of documentary will give you an idea of the deliberation and attention to detail that helps make it that way.


Trevor 20 November 2009 at 14:47  

"Why do I find myself having to watch 'children's' films in order to see innovative design, witty scripts and feel moved in some way?"

I feel the same way, sometimes, about books, at least about the books that get popular coverage. That's one of the reasons I've strayed so far into literature in translation this year -- it seems to have more directness and more risk and innovation.

Love this movie, by the way. Strangely, though, I can't remember a lot of it right now. It was a very busy year, though, so I'll blame my distractions rather than the film itself. I'll have to go rewatch it soon.

Ronak M Soni 20 November 2009 at 19:28  

I like this movie, but more in retrospect. I thought right after watching the movie that it was good but not too much, but your write-up brought pleasant memories to mind.
Maybe that's because the idea is better than the execution, or maybe it is because the format was too different for me to be easily affected by it.
Anyway, now I like the movie a lot, and interestingly my pleasant memories are in a different tone than the movie.

PS: I haven't gotten down to Synecdoche... yet. Hope to soon.

PPS: Have you read any Gaiman? I have a similar reaction to his American Gods (more because I was really distracted while reading it) and unequvocally love what I've read of the sandman series.

William Rycroft 21 November 2009 at 00:01  

Interesting that you say that about books Trevor. It's been great to see the wide variety of literature in translation that you've covered on your blog. May I take this opportunity to thank you for one mainstream release though which is Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips. You gave it a great review at the start of the year, I was completely bowled over by it and still have it in my mind as one of my picks of the year. I'm sure you'll agree that it contains both innovation and risk, if only more books did.

I'm glad to have brought pleasant memories back Ronak and look forward to your thoughts on Synecdoche. I haven't read any Gaiman although the Sandman series has been recommended. I'm slightly daunted by its size at the moment but will get around to it eventually.

Ronak M Soni 23 November 2009 at 03:42  

About the size of the Sandman series, it's only one hour per volume, ten volumes in all.
The first time, at any rate. I read the two volumes (second and third) that I did thrice in the same day.

Anonymous,  26 November 2009 at 19:41  

Coraline's a great book for children. It deserves the classic status, along with the Roald Dahls and Rowlings

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