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Feature


Coraline Jones moves with her family to the creepy Pink Palace apartments in Oregon. Bored and neglected by her busy parents, Coraline explores her surroundings, eventually coming across a tiny door, locked, and covered with wallpaper. That night she opens the door, and crawls through an umbilical-like tube into a mirror world. In this ‘other’ world Coraline finds mirror versions of her family and neighbours. These ‘others’ are warmer and more exciting than their real world counterparts, and with the promise of a better life she finds herself tempted to stay in the other world. But there’s a catch, and her Other Mother’s intensions may be suspect…

Coraline
Henry Selick’s Coraline continues to fill niches dug by a myriad of surprisingly successful fairy tale inspired films with a young female protagonist. Most of these films aren’t traditional live-action features either, and include fully animated features, partially animated features, special effects heavy features, and even a Muppet movie. Coraline is based on a novella by one of fantasy fiction’s most celebrated authors, Neil Gaiman, who’s had a pretty impressive run over the last few years, including script work on Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of Beowulf, along with this adaptation, and an even more successful adaptation of his novel Stardust by Matthew Vaughn (Gaiman also scripted Dave McKean’s Mirror Mask, which follows the same heroine in a classic fairy tale motif, with much less success). Gaiman’s work is often (read: almost exclusively) based on classic storytelling staples, such as mythology, religious texts, and fairytales. Coraline’s major themes go back to Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, and have also been seen on film via Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, and Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.

These stories tend to work best when the other world, the supernatural one the heroine must enter to fulfil her tasks, is genuinely appealing, while still featuring a degree of genuine menace, which will be played upon in later acts. If the world is too creepy from the beginning the protagonist looks like an idiot; like a nubile, sex-starved teen wondering into the woods outside of Camp Crystal Lake. Success doesn’t only ride on the main character’s intelligence, but in her ability to grow naturally into adulthood, which is the most obvious metaphor for such stories (there’s a reason these characters are usually aged in their early teens). The heroine has to start her journey with character flaws. Alice and Dorothy are naïve, while more modern characters are often bratty. Both brands grow into an understanding of maturity over the course of their story. Coraline is the more modern version of this character, and like Pan’s Labyrinth’s Ofelia or Spirited Away’s Chihiro she risks alienating the audience through her behaviour. I personally found this particular journey to maturity believable from a character standpoint, but understand many viewers found Coraline herself too obnoxious to enjoy.

Coraline
Selick’s embracing of the stories darker, and more gruesome elements lead the film to a possible future classic status, as kids don’t have enough horror stories to call their own (grown-ups and teenagers have stolen Nightmare Before Christmas). Adults have a strange habit of thinking children don’t like being scared as much as we do, often forgetting that they too loved sneaking glances at Nightmare on Elm Street when they were supposed to be in bed, or more importantly forgetting that classic, lasting fairytales are often very dark and gruesome. Selick finds an almost perfect tone, keeping the violent elements suggestive enough to maintain a fair PG rating, while embracing the grotesqueries (those button eyes are bloody creepy), and refusing to gloss over the thematically challenging elements. The film’s most obvious problems are narrative, as it’s overlong. Selick’s pacing choices are mostly spot on, but his story contains several unneeded sequences, and the ending feels unnecessarily elongated.

I’m personally pleased that Selick and his co-conspirators didn’t use illustrator Dave McKean’s illustrations as a starting point for the film. McKean’s flowing, somewhat terrifying style works on the page, and may work for 2D animation, but it probably wouldn’t work in 3D (or so I think, not being a fan of Mirror Mask), and really would be all wrong for Selick, who has developed a style of his own over the years. There is still a hair of Tim Burton’s influence to these designs (though most of Burton’s art is pretty obviously inspired by Charles Addams), but Coraline is very much Selick’s masterpiece, especially now that we can compare it to Burton’s stop motion solo act The Corpse Bride, though both director’s still haven’t achieved something as perfect as their dual effort— The Nightmare Before Christmas. I don’t think I need to make a point of telling you all how beautiful the film is, or how great the animation is, but here I am doing it anyway—the film is beautiful, and the animation is perfect.

Coraline

Video


This transfer is a little dirtier than I was expecting, especially in 2D, where the colours are more successfully recreated, and the details are easier to make out. Comparing the transfer to the DVD that is included with the Blu-ray we find that the big differences are found in the overall brightness of the hues, and the lack of compression artefacts in the more solidly represented colours. The Blu-ray still features a bit of noise in the low-lit areas, and some minor edge enhancement throughout medium and long shots. The fact that the film was shot digitally keeps film grain from being a factor at all. Stylistically speaking, the differences between the real world and the other world are not only accentuated by colour codes, but also the harshness of contrast. In the real world, which is practically monochromatic at times, edges are hard, while the other world is eerily warm and soft. The other world is also subtly touched with more darkness than the real world, which goes a long way in creating the unsettling tone.

I really do recommend watching the disc in 2D because of the colour and detail increase. The red/blue, or in this case purple/green glasses will always mess with the director’s chosen hues. On the big screen the polarized lenses somewhat dull the colours, but don’t mix them up, and there isn’t a loss of detail. The 3D effects work pretty well here, especially because the filmmakers make a point to pull the action back into the screen rather than out of it, but the importance of the 3D is negligible from my point of view.

Coraline

Audio


Coraline is a little less full-bodied than other recent animated features, but the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track serves Selick’s purposes well. The real world scenes are light on effects, and the items that do escape the vacuum are often soft, subtle, and suitably realistic. In contrast, the other world, which is still pretty softly touched by noise, is consistently teeming with activity throughout the channels, specifically a creepy hum of wind. As the film progresses and the Other Mother loses her shade of normalcy, the effects become more active and aggressive. The track’s high point is the spider web sequence, which takes advantage of the concept of a blind spider accessing her prey through the vibrations of her web. One of Selick’s most enlightened choices was hiring composer Bruno Coulais. Coulais doesn’t sound like Danny Elfman, and thus his contributions are important in the process of separating Selick’s art from Tim Burton’s. If this score, which is rich with surprises and perfectly adapted clichés, isn’t nominated for an Oscar, something is very wrong with the Academy’s ears.

Coraline

Extras


The extras aren’t too time consuming, but are reasonably solid, starting with an entertaining and largely informative commentary track with director Selick. The extras menu claims that composer Bruno Coulais is on the track as well, but his voice is only heard over the end credits. Selick runs us through the technical aspects of animation, the history of the project, and tells us the names of everyone involved without wasting our time with back patting. Most importantly to folks like me, Selick is very specific about what was changed between Gaiman’s original book and the film, which are many and varied. The U-Control PiP option didn’t work on my Profile 1.0 player, but are listed as including ‘Tours and Voice Sessions’, behind the scenes, and Animatics.

Next up are the deleted and extended scenes (8:30, HD), which are presented as a reel with introductions from Selick. The scenes are surprisingly mostly finished animation-wise, with finished dialogue (though sound effects are missing), which is rare for animation deletions. In all there are two deleted scenes, three extended scenes (one of which is included at the end of the credits), and a handful of minor trims.

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‘The Making of Coraline’ (36:00, HD) marches us swiftly through the production process in the form of a ten part behind the scenes featurette. Changes between the book and the movie (Selick is interviewed by Gaiman’s daughter), early character design work (including production art), voice casting and acting (including interviews and voice booth footage), puppet production, puppet wardrobe, prop and production design, actual animation (God it’s tedious), visual effects augmentation, and the process of shooting in 3D (oh God, it’s even more tedious!) are all briefly covered. The featurette could be longer, and I personally could’ve used a whole lot more talking with Neil Gaiman, not to mention some mention of the beautiful music, but all in all this is a solid production.

‘Voicing the Characters’ (10:30, HD) is a more in depth look at the voice acting process, featuring more cast interviews and behind the scenes footage. It should’ve probably been included in the making-of featurette, as should have ‘Creepy Coraline’ (05:00, HD), which looks at some of the film’s more frightful aspects.

Coraline

Overall


Coraline isn’t perfect, but more than half way through the year it’s still one of 2009’s standouts, and finally proves that stop motion director extraordinaire Henry Selick can really pull off great work on his own. The story may be a little overly familiar to some, as author Neil Gaiman and Selick use classic ‘Hero’s Journey’ motifs to tell their story, but the characters and visuals are original and dynamic enough to ensure this particular fairytale can stand on its own. The film itself comes highly recommended, especially to parents with adventure obsessed children. The Blu-ray is fine and dandy on the A/V side of things, though even in high definition the 3D effects simply don’t work as well as they had during the theatrical release. The extras are brief, but quite informative and entertaining.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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