Monday, February 16, 2009
This movie kicks ass. It's hard to put into words exactly why, but that's as it should be. A movie ain't words. A movie is a movie.
A movie, a good movie, but especially a good animated movie, is a waking fever dream.
Coraline has that dreamlike quality of all good fables. (And cartoons — One Froggy Evening comes to mind.) It doesn't feel invented. It feels like it always existed.
Coraline (the character) has just moved to a a weird new house in a weird new town. She feels dislocated, disassociated, disconnected. Her parents (and goddamn if this ain't familiar territory) are writers — they work at home, but to adolescent Coraline, that's no excuse. To her, they feel remote and unavailable. Then Coraline discovers a magical doorway to an Other World with Other Parents. Aside from their button eyes, they're perfect — perfectly loving, nurturing, attentive, and always available — too good to be true. Then the story shifts — like a seemingly solid rock on a cliff edge that suddenly starts falling down below your feet. The Other Mother is a monster who lures children into her knock-off realm of faux creations and then tricks them into staying there forever with a Faustian bargain involving the sewing on of button eyes. Coraline is forced to confront this demon — and rescue her parents, whom she's trapped in her realm.
The story is Neal Gaiman's — one of my personal heroes. My summary doesn't do it justice. The story alone is timeless. But director Henry Sellick's film adaptation of Gaiman's tale is more than a story — it's visual poetry, and 3-D visual poetry at last. This movie actually deserves the 3-D treatment — it never feels like a gimmick.
Sellick's adaptation is a rich, lushly textured labor of love. If God is in the details, then God is singing in every frame. To top it off — this is freaking stop-action animation, not CGI. Every detail that hits your eyes in stereoscopic glory is a photograph of an actual puppet being lovingly moved by hand. Considering that it's frame by frame at 24 frames per second, that's a whole lot of love.
The only possible criticism of this movie is it's too much damn movie. Like Captain Hook's cake, it's just too damn rich, and impossible to consume in one sitting.
But that's no criticism.
That's all the more reason to love it.