Was there ever any chance I wouldn’t like this film?

Neil Gaiman’s been creeping his way onto the big screen for a while now, after penning the less than impressive Beowulf, the mediocre adaptation of Stardust and the fantastic Mirrormask. Now Henry Selick, director of The Nightmare Before Christmas has brought Gaiman’s novel Coraline to life. Beautifully.

The animation is gorgeous. Really, really fantastic. A unique mix of stop motion and CGI, every single detail is perfect. Even the better animations of recent years (such as Bolt) seem to get caught up in textures (ooh, look at the hair! Ooh, look at the detailed wood grain!) that they forget basic character movement and expression.Coraline Thankfully Coraline suffers from none of this, and looks incredible in 3D, even if it’s too dim (like many of the RealD films out there).

Keeping in mind that my favourite film of all time is Labyrinth, and that MirrorMask was in my top ten of 2005, it comes as no surprise that this flick captured my imagination. It’s the same as those two films – a young girl craves to escape her everyday life and finds that having her wish granted is the worst thing that could have happened. In Coraline the title character finds a small door that leads to the other side of the looking glass, as it were. It’s a warped version of her own house, complete with her Other Mother and Father.

It’s all very obviously Gaiman – there’s a circus of sorts, a focus on the significance of names and above all his love of cats. Coraline has a wicked temper and a stubbornness that’s endearing rather than annoying, voiced perfectly by Dakota Fanning. The rest of the cast features some well known if under-utilised names, such as Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and the ever-versatile Keith David, and thankfully one never gets distracted by the presence of a well known voice (unlike, say, Eddie Murphy’s voice over work).

Whilst this is a gorgeously colourful film full of action, it has its fair share of silence and takes quite a measured approach to storytelling. This is most welcome, as kids’ films of the last decade have eschewed occasional silences in favour of hyperactive, non-stop action. The score is isn’t in your face, either, which is also appreciated. The last thing I needed was someone like Danny Elfman providing over the top tunes. Instead Bruno Coulais’ work only intrudes when necessary with a ghostly choral landscape.

Whilst marketed as a kids’ film, I feel I should point out that this isn’t one for little tackers. I think anyone too young would find it alternately dull and horrifying. Some of the imagery is truly nightmarish (think sewn mouths and skeletal witches), and I imagine it would scare a lot of under 10s. Then again, at the age of 12 I found Roald Dahl’s The Witches to be one of the most horrifying cinematic experiences of my life, so maybe I’m just a wuss…

As with many of these releases, you should try and catch the 3D version – I never grow tired of objects flying through the screen at me. That being said, this is probably the first RealD film I’d be happy to own on normal two dimensional DVD.

A wonderful trip into the abstract and carnivalesque, Coraline is practically perfect.

Rating: 5.0 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 12th August 2009
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