If bright colors in recent family films have been getting on your nerves recently I would like to turn your attention to "Coraline." Based off a book by Neil Gaiman and directed by stop-motion master Henry Selick, here is a movie that dares to be ugly, stiff, and dark. A movie that is visually stunning not because it's great but because it stands out. Oh don't get me wrong, there are scenes of beauty and color, but as the main character finds out this is all a cover up before the meat of the story opens up. The movie stars the title character, a twelve year old brat voiced by Dakota Fanning. She's miserable with her life because her parents are busy writing a garden catalog, and therefor don't dot her with the attention she feels she deserves. I know she deserves a slap across the face, but her parents just sort of put up with her.
Either they don't care how she acts or she's acted this way long enough to the point where they just tolerate it. I know my mom wouldn't let me get away with this, but whatever. The movie picks up when Coraline discovers a small door in her house that leads to an alternate world that is more colorful, more lively, and she has alternate parents who are much nicer to her. They feed her cakes, spoil her rotten, and all they ask in return is that she sow buttons over her eyes like everyone else in that world. The cakes Coraline could take, but does she want to replace her eyes? Most kids in the audience seemed to make a public statement that that was asking too much of her. Once she refuses the eyes the world becomes ugly faster then you realize. Really, it's almost amazing how fast this movie blind sides the audience.
While the film is in no way a family-friendly film in the first place, the direction this film takes at the halfway point can best be described as "children's horror." Ghosts, skellingtons, and starving/deformed people take over the film, and the house now looks like a goth kids attack. For years people wondered whether or not Selick was anything without Tim Burton, and judging from this movie I'd say he's finally found his niche. This is easily one of the most unique looking films in years, one that's sure to inspire a new line of punk clothes. Don't take me lightly when I call this a children's horror: It is really, truly scary at times. So much so that I wonder whether or not kids will be frightened of it. I know that kids are growing up faster these days but...I don't know, this seems to be pushing your luck with a potential psychiatrist bill down the road.
But not only is the film scary, in an odd way it's funny as well. No, there aren't a lot of pop culture puns or sight gags, but there is a morbid sense of fun to be had in Coraline's misery. Because despite the fact that she's the main character she's a selfish brat, and she kind of deserves what's coming to her. It's oddly liberating to see a child in a compromising situation that you hope she gets out of, but maybe not so soon to insure she learns her lesson. The voice cast is also universally fantastic, with special notice going to Teri Hatcher who has to play Coraline's mother in three different character pitches. The music, written by French artist Bruno Coulais, also contributes to "Coraline's" creepy atmosphere and look, leading me to believe the CD will be worth lots of money when it goes out of print.
I'm easily going to recommend the film but with a strong warning to parents to preview the film before letting kids watch it. I know that parents have to compete with a $20 million advertising campaign, but you have leverage in that McDonald's would not make a Happy Meal promotion with this film. Ironically though, this is the sort of children's movie we see more of. Not one that's necessarily violent and dark, but rather smart and imaginative. A more contemplative film that takes time to develope it's story and characters, and not distract the kids with fast editing and pacing. Something that is great to look at, with interesting characters, and a story you can get wrapped up in. If I were Pixar I'd be jealous of this film.
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