Directed by Henry Selick
2009, 100 minutes, U.S.A.
Review from Aaron Hillis; originally posted on GreenCine Daily on Feb 6, 2009, after a few initial negative reviews (fortunately many subsequent ones were far more positive -ed.)
Stop-motion animation wunderkind Henry Selick told me himself this week that he felt betrayed when studio honchos gave writer/producer Tim Burton an above-the-title credit for The Nightmare Before Christmas, which should be shared with Selick as it's his most durable directorial effort to date. But now the tables have turned with the wonderfully eccentric Coraline, as Selick is not only getting the lion's share of acclaim for his stereoscopic 3D adaptation of goth-hero Neil Gaiman's fantasy novella, but his dazzlingly meticulous production is so ahead of the industry curve that a couple critics have unfairly rejected the rest of the film for not being able to compare. It's obviously all subjective, that's the nature of our gig, but rather than reviewing a widely-released gem like Coraline, I'd only like to make a tiny case for why you should check out the most sophisticated and touching family film since Wall-E.
Peter Keough's two-star review in the Boston Phoenixclaims the film's "existential anxieties about identity, illusion, reality, boredom, and fun" -- as adventurous 11-year-old Coraline (voiced by a "shrill" Dakota Fanning) discovers a portal in her family's new country manor to a parallel world of decadent delights and underlying menace -- "dares not go below the surface." Yet Keough never explains his reasoning, unless he simply no longer remembers what being a kid is like, to wield the necessary power to transform a dreary day/experience/life into a vibrant adventure. Coraline is faced with having to choose between the parents who ignore her and "other parents" who are more fun, who shower her with gifts, who go out of their way to express their love; she makes her ultimate decision based on soul-searching, and her thought processes are demonstrated, not spoken aloud. When she's punished for her curiosities, she remains unwaveringly inquisitive. Being a child ain't easy, but Selick's and Gaiman's collaboration taps into that wide-eyed kid brain. Or, to give just as much evidence as Keough did, he's just wrong and I say so.
Similarly, Joe Morgenstern writes in the Wall Street Journal that the film "finally succumbs to terminal deficits in dramatic energy, narrative coherence and plain old heart." Once again, nothing to back up a statement that curt. While it's true that the momentum clips quicker in the back half, the story is uncomplicated and lucid throughout, and that a project filmed frame-by-posed-frame has suspense is pretty exciting. Even Morgenstern admits that it might be too scary for little kids, and the last time I checked, fright is an emotional response, no? He may say "too lifeless to enchant older audiences," but yet again, I say nay. Desson Thomson also cries heartless in the Washington Post, and while David Edelstein is the only grouch who voices his disapproval of the story with any effort, I can only hope that if you do rely on critics for consumer reporting, you take a look at what the overwhelming majority have to say, too. Here on the bandwagon, we're having an exhilarating time.
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