It’s official. The beauty of Neil Gaiman’s imagination has at last been realised in Coraline. The film is visually stunning, witty and most of all strangely moving; I haven’t enjoyed a film for children this much in a long time.
What worried me was that the young audience I was part of were not so appreciative. This isn’t a film for the very young, and maybe not even for the impatient adult (as I left the cinema I overheard a child asking her mother what long winded meant). Although only 100 minutes in length Coraline did appear as quite long (I think animated films are just more exhausting), and the ten year old film critic that accompanied me appeared oddly deflated. Perhaps it was the element of scare in the movie. Perhaps I had built it up too much. Perhaps Neil Gaiman is a matter of acquired taste.
But I loved it. Coraline is visually breathtaking, perhaps the best animated film I have ever seen. It isn’t just the level of technology; I found the effects weren’t just there to be showy and always complimented the story perfectly. Because Coraline is essentially a fairy tale, there’s a fairy tale logic to everything that happens. It’s very tight, and for all my scrutiny I could find no holes in the plot. Director Henry Selick (responsible for the vaguely similar James and the Giant Peach) does a very accomplished job. Probably both in 2D and 3D – the 3D version of the film we saw today doesn’t, I suspect, add too much. It’s just a great experience without the extra bells and whistles.
Those familiar with Gaiman’s work will already know the story of Coraline. A girl who briefly escapes her dull new home, where her parents spend most of their waking hours with their backs turned, to visit a half dreamlike alternative world where her mum and dad appear exciting and, most importantly, interested in her. Appear is the key world here, as the people in this “other” world have buttons for eyes. Something isn’t quite right because, quite rightly, buttons for eyes are the stuff of nightmares.
So unfolds the brilliant fairy tale. The animation realises it superbly, from button shadows covering the moon, to performing mice, a very wise cat and an eerie tunnel between the two worlds (pictured) that brought back the worst memories of Hellraiser from the corners of my memory. Best of all is how Coraline slowly realises that horror is around her and that she must act. Dakota Fanning (from Charlotte’s Web) is fantastic in the role, totally believable throughout. As I’ve said, it’s also moving; especially the scene when Coraline loses her real mum and dad and creates her own pair of button parents to prop beside her in the empty double bed.
The rest of the cast are also wonderful. Teri Hatcher is very impressive as both of Coraline’s mothers, Ian McShane plays an eccentric neighbour and Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders turn up as two rather odd sisters to provide some humour. Unlike many animated films, however, Coraline never knowingly assumes it can go over young heads, although the trade off I suspect is the very young, who just aren’t ready yet for this sort of sophistication. Unwittingly, this film may be just too advanced for much of its intended audience.
My pals on Twitter will already know that I’ve given this a nine out of ten. I’m sticking with that, but I feel that there was so much in this film that I need to see it again. It’s so lovingly made, and that’s a rarity these days in children’s cinema. This is quality, real quality. So hats off to this film, and even a bow; the best film I’ve seen this year.