Review & Thoughts: Coraline (2009)

Just got out of the theatre and saw Coraline. A film based off of the story from Neil Gaiman, directed and screenplay by Henry Selick. I don’t normally do reviews, but there are a few things that I thought to muse about the film. Some personal, others observations about the film. For the record, I have not read the book. I guess this post can count as spoiler, I guess.

Coraline - US Poster

I can’t begin without mentioning the various references to Michigan though out the movie. The family is from Pontiac, MI and moved to Oregon. The real father wears a Michigan State sweater. A key prop is a snow globe of the Horace Rackham Memorial Fountain. Both of which is funny because Rackham donated heavily to U of M. Not that it needed help, but I found myself warming up to the movie for these references.

As for the film’s content, I found myself needing to supplement some of the short comings of the film in order to make some of the choices Coraline makes more meaningful. Particularly, I found the real mother portrayed in the film as extremely vicious with no redeeming quality. While the real mother needs to give push back in order to stimulate Coraline’s desire fulfillment in the Other world, the real mother doesn’t show any real love for Coraline. There’s no subtext communicated for the Real mother, which leaves Coraline making the choice to not to live in the other mother’s world, rather than to live with her real parents. While I haven’t read the book, I feel that this may be more of a problem with Selick cutting that depth for the film. While I am fully aware that you can never communicate in a film like a book, there doesn’t seem to be an effort to make the real mother have any love for Coraline. The connection is too assumed with no context.

The voice casting was great as I didn’t find myself having any issue. What did stand out for me is the ‘stunt voice’ casting with the Father. John Hodgman was the voice of the father which certainly brought a smile to my face. A former literary agent voicing a writer is not lost on me. What stood out for me in casting is the “Other Father Song” about Coraline, sung by non other than one of the Johns of They Might Be Giants. What struck me is how well the singing voice matched Hodgman’s voice. Hopefully there’s another film which Hodgman’s character needs to sing and TMBG are brought in.

At once point in the film, there is a musical number with the characters Miss Forcible and Miss Spink. While sitting in an audience with a fair mix of 20-somethings and families with kids, the point where a psydo-bursleque act created a bit of an unease in the audience of “Oh wow, they went there.” Not really that risque, but enough to give an eyebrow raising moment. Which brings me to the next point…

I’m just going to come out and say this. All old ladies in this film have very enormous breasts. There. It has to be said. And come to think of it, that pattern of stop-motion animation characters where old ladies have enormous breasts leads me to wonder why such a pattern. Even Corpse Bride had this. In Coraline, even the saleswoman in the uniform shop had very large breasts. What’s going on here? Is this the Wilhelm scream for art direction in stop-motion animation?

After my friends Jim and Liz saw the film, they told me the film is Psychonauts: The Movie. When the movie reached the point where Coraline discovers the ghost children and given the task to find the three eyes/souls, I couldn’t disagree. The story turned into a potential interactive storytelling (re: game) with clearly given and multiable tasks to the protagonist. While there is a game adaptation of the game, it’s a merchandise product of the film. Not an independent piece of art.

I’m not advocating that Coraline should have been a (well produced) game either. If anything, this observation is my feeble attempt to get Neil Gaiman to write a new story for interactive media. Course, not just with anyone as there aren’t very many studios that would be a good match. Such a studio would need the consultation and collaboration skills with Gaiman in order to deliver an interactive story which exploits the talents they would all poses. Also, I believe that something new would work out better artistically, rather than adapting a set linear storyline; Thus removing expectations.

As for Coraline, its a very strong initial feature film offering from Laika and I expect good things for them in the future. Well worth seeing and will tide you over till The Watchman opens.

Edit (2-22-2009): I made a mistake and said Plymouth instead of Pontiac. As a bonus, I added a YouTube link to the Other Father Song by TMBG.

5 responses to “Review & Thoughts: Coraline (2009)”

  1. My only thought about real mother vs other mother is that this movie is, essentially, seen from the POV of Coraline. In this case, perhaps the real mother’s attitude is simply a melodramatic version of what is really going on. Coraline is aimed at kids and, I think, captures the “but nobody truly loooooooooves me!” attitude that children can get. It’s what makes the other mother so much more appealing to Coraline. Coraline knows that her real mother loves her, even though it seems that she doesn’t, because she is her REAL mother, as opposed to the other mother who is loving unconditionally to a fault.

    Confusing, I know, but once I watched it as a kid would watch it, it made a lot more sense.

  2. The family in the story moved from Pontiac Michigan not Plymouth. Did you really see the movie? The photo of Coralines “Buds” were from Pontiac Junior High!

  3. The family in the story moved from Pontiac Michigan not Plymouth. Did you really see the movie? The photo of Coralines “Buds” were from Pontiac Junior High!