It was way back in 1994, or perhaps 1995, when I first heard the name Henry Selick. Yes, I know that The Nightmare Before Christmas was released in 1993, but it was at least another year before I saw it. That film put on quite the display of imagination and the stop-motion animation was simply spectacular. Now, some fourteen years later, Henry Selick is back on the big screen with another film, a film that quite possibly outstrips the Tim Burton creation he helmed so many years ago. Add 3D into the mix and you just add another potential tool for excellence.
Henry Selick has crafted a film that transcends what might traditionally be called a kids' film. It is a movie that offers up a dark fantasy nightmare for children that tempers its threat with an empowering heroine. It is a story that anyone who was ever a child can identify with, and is dealt with using an intelligence that does not pander to children nor does it talk down to them. It deals with the material with a maturity that belies the mainstream view of it as a kids' film. It doesn't hurt that the source material is a story by Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Stardust, NeverWhere, Mirrormask).
Coraline is about a young girl named — you guessed it — Coraline (Dakota Fanning). She has just moved with her family to a multi-family home far away from the city she had called home her entire life. It is not a move she relishes. She spends much of her time by herself, as her parents are too busy to pay her any mind. It is not a state that she enjoys, but she makes do, looking for adventure. She is about to find more adventure than she can handle.
While exploring the house, Coraline discovers a small locked door that has been covered over by wallpaper. After getting her mother to open it, she finds a brick wall. Undaunted, she is determined to learn the secrets of the door. It is about this time that strange things begin to happen, and they are not all the result of the strange characters that live in the other apartments of the home.
The door turns out to be a passageway to an alternate universe that is quite similar to the real world, but just a little bit different. It is an alluring world where Coraline meets her other-Mother (Teri Hatcher). All seems fine and dandy, but in order to stay, you must button your eyes. Seems like a small price to pay, right? Not all is at it seems. It is up to Coraline to figure out what is going in and save herself and her family from the menace that awaits.
The tale is familiar, perhaps not in this form, but it is a part of each and every one of us — it involves the youthful fear of having to fend for yourself and the need to find the strength within. It is essential to our development. Now, that may seem a bit lofty, but it is fascinating to watch the familiar unfold in this completely fresh and original film.
Henry Selick is a master of the medium. Sure, this could have been told in a more traditionally animated feature, but it would nowhere near capture the magic and wonder of the story. Coraline is an absolute wonder in terms of its execution. It is so much more than a great story. The character designs, the animation, it is all just so completely engrossing.
Let us also not forget the 3D process employed for the film. It is technology used to great effect, and one that is not the reason for the film, but definitely enhances it.
There is something to be said about the magic of the cinema. Sometimes, it seems as if we have too much knowledge about the nuts and bolts of movie-making that it clouds our ability to watch a movie and become completely engrossed in it. The gorgeous stop-motion work here blasts through those defenses and gives back that "wow" factor, allowing he magic of movies to do its job and transport us to another world. Instead of thinking about how it was done, thoughts are more aligned with wondering what will happen next.
Bottom line. Wow, what else is there to say? This is a film that is firing on all artistic cylinders. It is a movie that tells a great story, is executed in grand fashion, and pulls no punches. Family and kids' movies need not always be comedic fare with talking animals; they can be something more. Henry Selick goes a long way to proving just what a family movie can be.