Coraline is meant for children, but this darkly beautiful twisted fairytale is sure to appeal to audiences of all ages. Henry Selick (director of The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach) once again triumphs in the world of stop motion animation. Coraline bemoans her boring existence, feeling ignored by her parents in their new home. Upon discovering a tiny secret door she discovers there is more to the house, and steps into a happier reflection of her own world, complete with her apparently charming “other mother”. Attention is lavished on her, and rather than irritations her neighbours become entertainment. All is not as it seems in the other world though, and Coraline has more than herself to save.
The film is Selick’s first venture into the world of 3D, now apparently a prerequisite for children’s films. While the majority simply use this gimmick to disguise woeful plotlines, Coraline really works in 3D. Rather than being poked in the eye, the audience is drawn into the scene: every frame is beautifully illuminated, with a depth that inevitably leaves the audience enchanted. From a magic garden with a thousand flowers slowly unfurling and lighting up, reminiscent of Disney’s Fantasia, to a circus full of jumping mice, the scenery is stunning. As in The Nightmare Before Christmas, Selick carefully employs the use of colour, leaving the real world as plain as possible to make the Other world all the more sumptuous.
The plot manages to wear its traditional “be careful what you wish for” morality well, even if it is a little over-reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland at times – complete with Cheshire Cat. There’s enough action and intrigue to keep everyone involved though. The twists might not be ground-breaking, but done this well they still grab your attention.
Clever characterisation, particularly that of supporting characters Mr Bobinsky, the retired Russian acrobat upstairs, and Misses Spink and Forcible, rotund retired actresses downstairs, will keep even adults entertained. . Spink and Forcible (French and Saunders) are exceptionally well cast, exuding energy and vitality. Much like Shrek the script manages subtle nods to grown-up humour, while not alienating its core audience – no small achievement. Coraline excels as a protagonist too, a fully developed character rather than a moping Disney brat, with a distinct attitude and some impressive brains.
Adults might wonder if the film is too scary for children – it had me gasping at times – but the little ones leave enthralled, not afraid. The film manages to blend the terrifying and the surreal to sublime effect: a children’s classic in the making. A perfect fairytale, Coraline dazzles in every sense.