It is wholly pointless to review Coraline.
I could deftly mention the pacing problems in the third act, or something of that ilk. But doing so is not only nitpicky, but so completely unimportant when it comes to labeling a film like this “good” or “bad.” The reason being, Coraline’s very existence more than validates its worth; better yet, Coraline is the reason we go to the movies.
Some people will see it on pedigree alone. It’s directed by Henry Selick, the genius behind The Nightmare Before Christmas, one of the most beloved movies of the 90s. Coraline is of the same blood as that film, there is no doubting it. But in some ways it’s also more brave, more original, more flawed, and more affecting.
Sadly, I forget movies could be this imaginative. In the wake of the Harry Potter books(1), it seems like all kid’s movies and fantasy films have fallen victim to a kind of “plug and play” formula. Most original stories have been anything but, and gone for non stop barrage of pop-culturism, referencing, or a spinning on a classic stories; which is what makes Coraline so refreshing. It’s very much its own world and its own tone… and coming from Neil Gaiman I would expect nothing less.
As for seeing Coraline, the set pieces of the film act as their own reward. It’s somewhat cliche to say the first garden sequence is “worth the price of admission” but there we go; it is definitely worth the price of admission, as are most of the sequences. The atmosphere changes, mutates, and breathes. So much so I feel like the less said the better. But if people are looking for something of a comparison, the film has many similarities to Pan’s Labryinth, only with less blood, gore, and scares (2). Surely what would have been against most studio head’s wishes, Coraline unfolds slowly, but more accurately I’d say deliberately. The film takes its time with every detail, making the details themselves the focus of story or scene. Working as “pure cinema,” it always managing to creek a little smile across your face, with it’s almost inhuman attention to those very details. It’s one of the very things that makes stop-animation so special, the very care needed to do it will reward you with beauty in every frame.
Still, Coraline at its heart, is a fable and one with a surprisingly important lessons, both for children and adults who may forgot; lessons about how we see the world and the people around us for better and for worse. Often we cannot take our own perspective for granted in the quest for things we desire or think we need. Relegating the tale to something as sophomoric as “appreciate what you have” would be a disservice to the layers of the film. Even kids who will see Coraline will instinctively understand its depth because it plays out so organically and true to their own lives. I know it certainly brought me back to my fiddling childhood, where I would have thought long and hard about getting my button eyes.(3)
The film is just wonderful. And see it in 3D if you can. That’s what it was meant for and it avoids any gimmicks. I loved it.
(1) – Which is not to say the Harry Potter Books are bad, they’re actually great. So great that everyone seems to be copying them and weakening their originality and merit.
(2) – Which is not to say Coraline is without teeth
(3) – This will make sense later.