Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Not So Sweet Coraline

Posted By on Wed, Jul 29, 2009 at 7:01 PM

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Along with throngs of other $1 movie fans, Blockbuster can add me to the list of folks to thank for their demise. Biking past Albertsons last night, I decided to swing by the Red Box to see if it was stocked with anything besides explosion-heavy summer thrillers and wedding-themed rom coms. To my glee, Henry Selick’s Coraline had just arrived—a movie I was amped to see last February, but somehow missed in the theaters.

Now, I have to come clean, I’m not big fan of scary movies of any kind—even if they’re touted as kid movies. (I’m looking at you Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.) But holy crap, if I had seen Coraline as a kid, I might still be sleeping with the lights on.

Based on a short fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman, Coraline is a stop-motion animation film that follows a precocious blue-haired pre-teen as her family moves into a creepy Victorian apartment in a new town. Coraline’s parents are pale, distracted writerly-types who are more concerned with editing a gardening manual than they are with planting an actual garden or paying attention to Coraline. After following some circus mice that her eccentric upstairs Russian neighbor Mr. Bobinsky trains to do tricks, Coraline finds an Alice and Wonderland-esque portal into another world—one that is eerily like the one she came from.

In this new place, Coraline’s Other Mother and Other Father are doting, loving and fun. It’s a world of shiny turkey dinners, whimsical toys and glowing gardens. But, of course, that doesn’t last for long. Soon after Coraline refuses to sew black buttons on her eyes like everyone else in Other-ville, her Other Mother turns into a skeletal, scheming villain and locks her behind a mirror with other children whose souls she’s stolen.

And that's when things get dark.

Coraline escapes back to her real house only to find that her parents have gone missing—a fly-eaten sack of molding groceries is the only sign of life that remains in the house. In a predictable plot twist, Coraline now has to muster her courage and return to the other world to save her parents.

In lieu of giving away any more of the plot, I’ll say that the thing that surprised me most about Coraline—besides the stellar animation and fantastical, twisted storyline—is the movie’s overall message. Though the parents are turtleneck-wearing, laptop-toting urbanites and Coraline is a strong, sassy tomboy type, the story’s message harks back to a seemingly bygone era. It’s much more “Hey kid, tough it out and make the best with what you've got” than it is “Little angel, you can do whatever you put your mind to.” For such a darkly chaotic movie using such cutting edge technology, it's surprising and oddly comforting to find a tried-and-true message at the heart: listen to your parents, they know what's best.

I think I'll sacrifice another dollar and give Coraline a second watch tonight. But this time I'm keeping the lights on.

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