The darkest fairy tale to hit theaters in years: Coraline

By Tatiana Craine

Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house. And so begins the fantasy horror novel, “Coraline,” by Neil Gaiman. It seems unassuming enough, especially as a children’s novel. Be careful, things are not always as they seem.Seven years ago, those words first made it to print. And after five years and several prestigious awards, the gods decided it was high time to start making a film adaptation. The story was pitched to the director of the delightfully bizarre film “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” Henry Selick. He also adapted Roald Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach,” which made Selick seem like the perfect candidate to bring “Coraline” to the screen. Selick, known throughout the film industry for his whimsical stop-action feature films, brings painstaking attention to detail to his projects. Production for “Coraline” was a labor of love filled with thousands of miniature set pieces and hours of stop-motion filming technique shot with a camera in 3D. Two years of toiling away, and “Coraline” came to life not only in the imaginations of readers across the world (the book has been translated into over 30 languages), but on the silver screen, too.

“Coraline,” at its core, is a story about growing up and being brave, dipped in the fantastic and the horrific. The novel and film’s heroine is Coraline Jones, a young girl who has recently moved to the middle of nowhere Oregon with her parents. The three of them live in a very old, very large house inhabited by a stock of wacky neighbors. Mrs. Spink and Mrs. Forcible are the tenants in the bottom portion of the house, former actresses now reduced to blobby old women. Mr. Bobinsky (Mr. Bobo in the novel) lives at the top of the house with a whole slew of mice he is secretly training for a mouse circus.

A few days after moving in to the house, Coraline gets trapped inside by the rain. No friends in sight (barring a new addition to the cast of characters, a boy named Wybie who seems more of a nuisance to Coraline than anything). No interest in her madcap neighbors. No sympathy from her somewhat neglective, always-busy parents. This is a real nightmare for the girl with an imagination bigger than the plot of land she’s found herself on. After pestering her parents, the young girl explores the house and discovers a small door in the drawing room. It’s wall-papered shut and locked tight. Coraline is instantly drawn to the mysterious entrance.

She pesters her mother into unlocking the door, only to find any potential adventures stopped short by a brick wall immediately behind the entry. Coraline, though disappointed, doesn’t give up hope. One night, the girl is lured into the drawing room by a small rat that disappears through a crack in the door. Coraline realizes it’s open. She finds the bricks have vanished and a colorful tunnel tempting her to crawl through. through a looking glass of sorts, for what Coraline finds on the other side of the door is identical to where she just came from.

Confused, Coraline steps into the kitchen and finds her mother cooking a scrumptious meal. But this isn’t her mother. She looks exactly like Coraline’s mother, only she’s a little paler, a little taller, a little more sinister and sickly sweet at the same time. Oh, and she’s got black buttons for eyes. Coraline is taken aback, but somehow pushes past this oddity and thus begins a series of visits Coraline pays to this new place with her Other-Mother, her Other-Father and the Other-Neighbors. A mysterious black cat accompanies the girl on her adventures and gives sage, if not sarcastic, advice to her.

Everything in this Other-World is the same as the old world, but things seem more magical and bright. There are more adventures to be had, and Coraline’s every need is catered to. However, Coraline realizes that all is not well in this dreamland she has always wanted to be a part of. This dream-come-true suddenly turns into a sharp and stinging nightmare, and the girl realizes the meaning behind the age-old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”

“Coraline” the movie and “Coraline” the novel are similar, but like the two worlds that the girl finds herself between, they’re somehow very different. The addition of new characters and new plot-lines are somewhat distracting in the film. Die-hard fans of the book may find fault with these changes, but over-all, the good outweighs the bad.

Perhaps the best thing about the film is the special effects. Selick and his team of stop-motion magicians have re-imagined Gaiman’s story into a fantastic piece of eye-candy. The choice to film the movie with 3D cameras proved to be impressive. The effect lets moviegoers (sans the traditional 3D glasses) experience the film almost as a diorama-the picture is just out of reach, but so real-looking. The tunnel Coraline crawls through unfurls into a violet-blue rainbow, the garden in the Other-World is filled with haunting floral delights, and the Other-Mr. Bobinsky’s mouse circus is a marvel as mice dance and bounce every-which-way. The 2D worlds presented in Selick’s previous films are blown out of the water by the authenticity of how this film looks on the big screen.

The cast of “Coraline” is just as good as the film’s visual effects. Dakota Fanning stars as the film’s heroine, and remains rather pleasing throughout “Coraline.” The young actress, once just a child-star, is coming into her own. However, there are a few times when her voice seems strained, trying to sound too much like a little girl. Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French voice Mrs. Spink and Mrs. Forcible, a perfect comedic team, even making a [somewhat random] passage from “Hamlet” inserted in the film seem natural. The real star of the film, voice-wise, is Teri Hatcher who captures perfectly the dreary dullness of Coraline’s real mom, the sugary sweetness-turned maliciously malevolent voice of Coraline’s Other-Mother. Hatcher’s stint on “Desperate Housewives” has surely been good-training for this role, and word on the street is that she beat out several Oscar-winners for her part.

On the website, “Rotten Tomatoes,” the film scored an 88 percent freshness rating, which is something that most films on that site cannot boast. On the whole, critics agree that “Coraline” is a visually stimulating must-see. Neil Gaiman has even given it outstanding approval after being along for the ride during the last few years of production. “Coraline” is just the right blend of fantasy and terror for all ages-very much akin to “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” It may be a little scary for smaller kids, but then again, did a little bit of fright ever really hurt anyone? If anything, this film will open up the imaginations of children and adults. They’ll find themselves asking what’s behind the next door, and maybe just maybe, they’ll open it to see what adventures lay inside.