There’s actually a very close relation between this film and ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’. The director, Henry Selick, was actually someone very involved with that particular production. He was, in fact, supposed to co-direct the film along with Wes Anderson, but pulled out due to creative differences. Not that this is something that is like a big secret or anything like that (something you can look up for on Wikipedia, in fact), but I do find the link between the two films to be intriguing. Especially when they’re both up for the same award. It reminded me of when ‘No Country for Old Men’ and ‘There Will Be Blood’ were both big contenders a few years back. Both of the film were shot very close to each other in terms of locations and schedule (there were actually some overlap, if I recall correctly), and these were the things that I bore in mind early on as I settled in for ‘Coraline’.
Having said that, the similarities between the two ends just about…there.
Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) moves into a new house with her parents, Mel Jones (Teri Hatcher) and Charlie Jones (John Hodgman). It is a pretty big house, one that is divided into three different parts. While she and her parents live in one part of the house, retired actresses Miss Spink and Miss Forcible (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French respectively). They’re pretty big on dogs, to the point of stuffing and displaying the dead ones that they have had as pets before. Moving further along, Coraline also comes across Mr Bobinsky (Ian McShane), who reminds me of a character I cannot quite recall totally from ‘The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’. However, it is the parents from whom a child is most influenced, and it is somewhat unfortunate that Coraline’s parents are always busy, working on a gardening catalogue of some sort. Being the bored, curious girl that one expects her to be, Coralina begins to explore the house and the area surrounding it. She becomes ‘friends’ with Wybie (Robert Bailey, Jr.), a local kid you can imagine being the outcast at the local school for his oddity, and his cat (Keith David).
It was during one of these explorations that Coraline comes across a small door in the wall in her home that leads to the Other World. In this world, everything is almost exactly the same…except that it’s not. It’s a complete reverse of the reality that she lives in. Case in point: there are people in the Other World who acts and behaves as if they’re her parents, and even looks the part…except that they have buttons for eyes. Kind of creepy, isn’t it? I still couldn’t get used to it by the movie’s end, and it made my skin kind of…well, not quite crawl, but it doesn’t exactly inspire warmth in my heart either.
What the movie does inspire, however, is a certain morality that may seem common, but is not as emphasised often enough these days (in my opinion, at least). Certainly, it is not done in an effective enough way. Her Other parents are everything that Coraline wanted them to be like, but it doesn’t quite work out in the same way that she wanted: it turns out that her Other Mother can be quite evil in her own ways.
Coming back to the morality I mentioned earlier, I refer mainly to Coraline, a character who started off as someone who’s not entirely enamoured with her parents (though having said that, her parents doesn’t exactly make a strong case that they should be enamoured with), but her position changes throughout the film, especially when they become somewhat involved with the characters from the Other World. There’s not many movies nowadays that places emphasis on the children actually appreciating their parents a little bit more. Perhaps it is a reflection of the coolness of the times? In that way, at least, this movie is somewhat successful by evoking some emotions in this department.
Having said that, the movie evoked memories of the aforementioned ‘Zelda’ game. In the game, the main character (nameless, but we get to call him whatever we want) goes through a number of trials and tribulations in order to achieve his objective. Here, Coraline herself goes through the similar challenges in order to rescue her parents from her Other Mother. There is a degree of familiarity to the proceedings that is well established by Selick. In this case, there is a clear demarcation between the real and the Other World. However, being a mirror of the real world, the real world itself becomes a strong reference point for the Other World, providing clues as to how the problems or challenges could be solved. It forces us to recall all the things that happened before in the film, and it means that nothing is wasted. In short, everything is well-established and foresighted beforehand. I’ve always felt that good storytelling is merely a loop, a circle that means the end is somewhat linked to the start. The complexity of a story shapes the size of that particular loop, but at the end of the day, whichever way you stretch it, it remains a loop nonetheless.
Kind of like pack of condoms playing music i.e. A rubber band. Ho hum. 🙂
It’s the usage of these plot devices effectively that made for an entertaining film. It doesn’t, however, mean that the same devices make for a good, memorable film. Good is somewhat subjective, but memorable is less so; either it sticks in your mind, or it doesn’t. Case in point: ‘Nine’. I wrote that it is entertaining enough, but it doesn’t manage to find enough Loctite to actually lock itself tightly within my mind. ‘Coraline’, on the other hand, not only finds it, but metaphorically copyrights the whole brand. Despite the fact that I actually saw the film some time ago (before taking a break preparing for my exams), I can still recall vividly the scenes from the film. The colour, the feel and the characters are somewhat stereotypical, but they are somehow fleshed out enough to make you care and enjoy the film.
I also wrote earlier about how creepy it was in certain parts. The method is deceptively simple. Heck, it’s a mere replacement of the eyes with a pair of buttons, but even that made me feel a little off. A doll being undone and re-stitched together in the intro also piques the interest, inspiring much of the same feelings I mentioned. Bugs in showers, bugs as…chairs…the movie and the feelings it inspired is something to be hold. In fact, while we’re on the subject of looks, despite the previously-mentioned link to ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’, the movie feels more like a relative of ‘Corpse Bride’ (or any other Tim Burton film, for that matter). I have to admit, in stark contrast, the animation here seems a little bit smoother, a little bit more conventional in a way. I wonder whether this is merely an aesthetic choice of the director’s. Henry Selick did call it off with Wes Anderson over creative differences, apparently; was this what ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ would have looked like if he had stayed?
And speaking of Tim Burton, I suppose there are also parallels that can be drawn to ‘Alice in Wonderland’: speaking animals as companion (hell, a talking cat that tries to help her), a weird and somewhat-wonderful other world. It could also be made to the Zelda game I mentioned earlier, with Coraline having to overcome obstacles in order to be able to rescue her parents and bring them back safely.
In that sense, it takes on a lot of points of references from many different things, and brought it together into a film that is…perhaps not marketed as well as it should be. I say that because my first impression is that it is something of a kiddie movie. While it remains true to elements of that particular genre, there is more than enough here to palate the appetite of the adult moviegoer looking for a film that can be enjoyed with their own kids without insulting the intelligences of both target audiences. I suppose the story has been told before in many different ways, but ‘Coraline’ has more than enough to stand on its own two feet and out in the crowd.
Fikri likes the music a lot, too.