Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My thoughts on Coraline

Notice I didn't say this would be a review. I'm too biased. Honestly, I find it very difficult to find anything bad to say about this movie, so instead I will try and justify why I liked it so much.

Coraline, at its surface, looks like an ordinary kid's movie. More like an Aardman venture than a Skellington effort. But, as I had been warned, this is possibly one of the creepiest kids movies I've ever seen.

This movie starts out like your typical "wonderland" movie and works its way undetected into a folkloric tale the Russians probably told their children at night to scare them into behaving. Having never read the Coraline book by Neil Gaiman (though now I want to), I cannot compare it to the original story but for what it is, I was hypnotised by the quirky twists and turns and most of all, the pacing.
There is a certain rhythm to Coraline - the plot goes through certain phases rather than simply a linear romp, giving it an almost episodic feel, and for a kid's movie I noticed that it was much slower paced than usual. It doesn't get boring, however - Henry Selick keeps the flow uninterupted in a manner that engages you emotionally the whole way through. In some ways, the "real world" scenes are every bit bizarre as the fantasy world, and certainly just as entertaining.

Perhaps it's just my whacked out sense of humour, but there were many scenes in this film that had me rolling with laughter. I have a special fondness for Mr. B, and the now infamous Old Lady stage act had me in stitches.

The animation itself is nothing short of incredible. Near the beginning there were particular moments that I felt looked a bit awkward or clunky, but this was a false first impression. One thing they got right from the start is something that has always given me a giant animation boner, and that is subtlety in the facial expressions.
I'm not fully clued in on how this movie was made technically, though I heard they used a 3D printing machine (I know for a fact those machines are wildly expensive and take a very long time to work their magic). A few hundred thousand heads were produced to provide all the different expressions. The overall effect looks almost like a marriage between stop motion and CGI; and if you're a purist like me, that will probably sound unattractive. No need to worry, however - the facial animation on display here is so perfect, so charming, that you will forget you are watching an animation, which is every animator's dream come true.
There are many scenes that stick out in my mind as being so rich in subtlety as a character walks down a hall, or skips down a hillside. Wait until you see the 'broken' Mr. B. - the way his limp, corpse-like body moves is in equal parts hilarious and utterly terrifying.

French composer Bruno Coulais complements everything with a soundtrack that is exquisitely well suited to every single part of the film. As the grotesque nature of this strange fantasy world becomes revealed, the music follows suit. This is one of those rare films where I made the decision whilst watching it that I must buy the soundtrack.

The casting is perfect. I have always believed that in animation, it is pivotal to cast an actor based on their voice talents, and not on their latest box office success or some bigwig executive's dick well and truly sucked. Say what you want, Ray Romano will never be a mammoth and Ben Stiller will never be a lion. In animation it is absolutely crucial that you assign the right voice to the right characters, and the choices for Coraline felt perfectly natural.

All in all, I'd say that this is one of those films that was made for me. If you want an idea of what I consider an excellent animated film, this is it.


  1. hey I got a free pass for this movie today wanna see it? oh wait

  2. About Stiller and Romano, do you feel they do poor voice acting for those parts in general, or is it just that you recognise their names and voices from already established (and rather annoying) characters? In other words, would their VA be ok if you had never heard of them before?

  3. Two reasons - first of all they're miscast, and secondly, they are ill equipt for voice acting.
    The actors I just mentioned play themselves in an animated movie. At least in Shrek, Mike Myers put on an accent and a voice, and got into a bit of a role. That's the whole point of voice acting. Ben Stiller just talks and acts like he would in an E! interview. But he can get away with it because he's Ben Stiller and his name sells tickets. It's almost patronising.