Ignored by parents who are too wrapped up in their own troubles, Coraline is bored in her new home and with her crazy neighbours who can’t even pronounce her name right. But when she discovers a tiny door to a mirror world, she finds strange ‘other’ parents who have buttons instead of eyes; and who pay her all the attention she could ever want…..

Coraline (2009) – Director: Henry Selick

Coraline movie poster

Rating: PG

Running Length: 100 mins

Starring: Dakota Fanning / Keith David / Teri Hatcher

Genre: Animated / Fantasy

 

REVIEW

Stop-motion animation ‘Coraline’ has a high pedigree. It is adapted from a novella by fantasy author Neil Gaiman (who, among many other things, wrote the movies ‘MirrorMask’ and ‘Stardust’ as well as contributing scripts to ‘Doctor Who’) and is directed by Henry Selick (director of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’). The combination of these influences result in a very unsettling script expertly realised in tangible stop motion. The movie certainly comes to life when Coraline discovers the weird portal in her wall and crawls into the gothic trappings of the ‘other’ world. It’s a journey made several times and the switches between the ‘normal’ world (drab greys; miserable weather; peculiarly washed out people) and the ‘other’ world (bright primary colours, dream-like set pieces; sub-consciously ominous score) make for an entrancing contrast. This is only slightly spoilt by the fact that on cinematic release ‘Coraline’ was one of the first-wave of 3D revival movies. The times when items, people or scenery mug the foreground (where 3D would have things popping out of the screen) just look odd in a 2D home movie environment.

It would be easy to compare ‘Coraline’ to ‘A Nightmare Before Christmas’ but actually the difference between Tim Burton’s cartoony wonder and Neil Gaiman’s twisted reality makes ‘Coraline’ a much more unsettling experience. This is due to the fact that ‘Coraline’ is, at heart, a story about a little girl losing her grip on safety. Depressed and angry at having to move home and at being ignored, the trappings of the ‘other’ world are enticing enough for Coraline to gloss over why her ‘other’ mother and father would have buttons where their eyes should be, but once it becomes clear that there is more at play, she finds herself struggling to escape the influence of the corrupted version of her home. If we were to sum up Coraline in one word it would be ‘creepy’. It is a subversive movie that delights in slowly ramping up the sensation of danger before revealing the ‘other’ world for what it is. ‘Coraline’ is a movie for kids who like to sit on the edge of their seat; frozen in wide-eyed wonder; and then babble about the amazing things they have seen once they realise that everything is going to be alright.

IS ‘CORALINE’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?

The very opening scene sets the tone for ‘Coraline’. It shows a cloth doll being unstitched and having the stuffing pulled out, only to be re-filled with sawdust and have new clothes made. Like a lot of the movie, the ‘taking apart’ of the doll is a little unsettling, but perhaps more so for adults than children.

The ‘other’ world when first introduced also has a dark underscore due to the fact that Coraline finds ‘another’ mother and father acting perfectly normally (albeit more attentively) but with buttons for eyes. Although perplexed, Coraline herself is more intrigued than worried at first; but be warned that if your child has a problem with the concept of ‘replaced’ parents at this stage then the rest of the movie will almost certainly be too much as it gets much more creepy as the plot progresses.

‘Coraline’ eases the viewer into the fact that all is not as it appears. In her first few trips to the ‘other’ world Coraline is enraptured. The annoying washed out neighbours are now super real versions of themselves that entertain her and come in two clear set pieces, along with a happy ‘other’ father tending to a beautiful garden. During the second half of the movie when the exact nature of the ‘other’ world becomes clear, Coraline has to revisit these three stages and each time the previously wonderful setting turns against her to prevent her aims. This continues the theme of the familiar being corrupted and becoming dangerous; something which some children may get upset about.

Of the two sets of neighbours we mention, we also highlight the proportions of the two spinsters, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible (voiced by English comediennes Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French). Both are elderly but where Miss Spink is squat and chubby, Miss Forcible is tall and buxom to an exaggerated degree. In the real world this just makes for some silly knocking into things, but in the ‘other’ world, when Madames Spink and Forcible put on a mermaid themed show (with Miss Forcible having only glittering clam shells keeping her decent) it becomes very difficult to ignore her femininity. We don’t mean to be prudish and this isn’t played for sexuality (indeed, the tone is rather playful), but you may find your child suddenly aware of, and curious to talk about, why this lady’s body is bouncing all over the place!

Early on, Coraline meets a slightly weird boy called Wyborne (shortened to ‘Wybie’). Even though it is specifically mentioned a few times, children will probably not understand the rather sad implication of his name but he is a quirky, chatty character. However, on her second trip to the ‘other’ world, there is a mirror Wybie with buttons for eyes who cannot talk. Whilst Coraline enjoys his company during her fantastical initial experiences in the other word, the tone soon gets darker and at one point Wybie is shown to have a permanent grin stitched into his face. He is panicking and Coraline is shocked but quickly helps him out. This is the kind of scene that may be perfectly logical to a child not disturbed by the implications of being forced to grin against your will, but a more sensitive child may be unnerved. The same goes for the sound of the ‘other’ characters voices which, as the movie progresses, become more warped and ‘wrong’.

Talking about ‘warped and wrong’, the most frightening character in this movie is the ‘other’ mother. She starts off sweet and friendly, but becomes aggressive and angry as the plot progresses. When she first loses her temper she physically mutates into a more frightening form. Her neck and limbs extend, her face scowls and she goes from smiles and love to gloating and threats. This also happens a couple of times later, so we recommend paying attention to how your child deals with this part of the story when it first comes up.

One of the parts of the movie most likely to be scary for children is when Coraline finds herself talking to ghost children; kids who had been suckered in by the wonder of this other world only to have their ‘lives eaten’. They have frozen wide-eyed faces and one has an elongated and warped mouth. Although Coraline is upset at the situation she finds herself in, the ghost children do make her more resolved to fight back. Kids will be feeling what Coraline is feeling and although the ghost children are scary to look at, the fact that Coraline manages to stay strong should help children get through this short scene.

The final act of the movie ramps up the pressure and the fear factor. If a child has gotten to this point in the movie and is fine with what they have already seen then they should be ok, but if they’ve been having problems then the ending may make things worse. As previously mentioned, Coraline has to revisit three wonders but is attacked each time. The attacks are quite short, but they all come in a 10 – 15 minute period and she is often scared during these parts. The final confrontation with the ‘other’ mother follows and is probably the scariest part of the movie. We don’t wish to give anything away, but the ‘other’ mother mutates still further into a pale faced rotten figure that gets several close up shots. She pursues Coraline in a scene that lasts a few minutes and during this sequence Coraline is terrified. We would advise that an adult be present with a younger child for this scene in case it needs to be switched off in a hurry.

CAN I SEE A CLIP?

VERDICT

‘Coraline’ could perhaps best be described as a horror movie for children. We don’t mean that it is wall to wall terrifying, more that despite the undoubtedly fun elements of the fantasy world present, the movie is clearly designed to provide an unnerving sense of being lost and helpless; much like the tone of movies ‘Return to Oz’ or ‘Labyrinth’.

That said, we feel that in fact adults are MORE likely to be creeped out by the implications of what is happening in ‘Coraline’ than children. Where kids will most be potentially unhappy are the parts when Coraline herself is scared or upset as it is through her that the movie’s emotions are felt. However, Coraline is a strong and confident girl who for the most part deals with her problems with some attitude and pragmatism. The moments where she is unable to cope are mostly contained in the final act and are usually brief (except where we have specified).

We feel this will be an enjoyable plucking of the fear strings in older children but may occasionally be upsetting for children under 7 and so we would recommend an adult be present to judge whether things are getting too much.

  • Violence: 1/5
  • Emotional Distress: 2/5 (as above, Coraline generally emotionally in control)
  • Fear Factor: 4/5 (there are many sinister, unsettling and scary moments)
  • Sexual Content: 1/5
  • Bad Language: 1/5 (features two examples of mild cursing)
  • Dialogue:  2/5 (occasional lines of dialogue that imply pain or suffering, but these are quick and not lingered upon)
  • Other notes: Deals with themes of the need a child has to be validated by their parents, trusting your instincts and being aware of disguised dangers.

Words by Mike Record

Coraline (Blu-ray 3D) [2009] [Region Free]


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