First thing you should know about the spate of 3-D movies that are being released, there’s a $3 premium on the movie tickets. Given that they ask you to recycle the glasses instead of keep them for your next visit (like airlines and their crappy headsets) I’m guessing that the 3 bucks is technically for the glasses, but if you bring your own the next time they’re not going to spare you the surcharge, and likely proclaim that the additional fee is for projection technology or somesuch. Also, I bet if you’ve only got one eye, therefore no depth perception invalidating the 3-D, your not getting any kind of break.
Anywho, Coraline is based on the Neil Gaiman novel which is a gothic revision of the “Alice In Wonderland” style of story. The basic plot (and it is pretty basic) involves the pre-teen Coraline and her parents moving to the mid-west from Detroit, in a 150 year old house that has been divided into three apartments, with oddball performing neighbours above and below them. Coraline’s parents are too busy with their writing careers to spend time with her, and her boredome comes across as pestering. She discovers a door hidden beneath the wallpaper, eventually discovering it’s a portal to another reality, where everything is colourful and like new, her “other-parents” dote over her, and her neighbours are all spectacularly talented and entertaining. The only thing is, they all have buttons for eyes. As one would expect in a fairy tale, all is not what it seems, and whatever seems too good to be true probably is, and Coraline finds herself in a game competing for her life.
The story is small and contained to really one location, which makes Coraline’s adventure seem less than adventuresome. The bandying back and forth between the colorful fantasy world and the dim real world provides an appropriate juxtaposition, but after one venture to and from we get the idea.
But the story isn’t necessarily the draw here. Henry Selick, director of Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, once again ventures into the world of stop-motion animation and does it like nobody before him has. Here, the figure work and movements are incredibly smooth that, and it shames me to say it, it looks almost like digital animation. The set pieces and miniatures detail are absolutely incredible. The house is a marvel, looking tangibly real, and subtle touches like the dingy velvet of Misses Spink and Forcible’s couch provide such atmosphere that everything is worth looking over. The only area where Selick’s team fails in creating a real or even stylized replica is the cat, who winds up looking and moving like a puppet.
I quite enjoyed the voice cast, Dakota Fanning providing a note-perfect Coraline, and Teri Hatcher making for a great evil mom x2. John “I’m A PC” Hodgman played a sheepish and goofy Father, while Ian McShane pulled out a tremendous Bavarian accent for Mr. B, the mouse-circus trainer. Ab-Fab’s French and Saunders reunite to play the aged performers Spink and Forcible (including one rather risque performance involving mermaids and Bottechelli’s Birth of Venus), and there’s probably not a better voice around for a cat than Keith David.
The “Real D” 3-D technology, though a few years old (I first saw it with Superman Returns, is still quite new and I’m not sure filmmakers know how to fully harness it yet. The thing about Coraline, though, is it escapes the need to showcase the technology (there’s not a lot of things flying out in your face ala Dr. Tongue), and instead presents of world of depth (although I imagine the spectacular scene of forced perspective involving a spider web was done solely for 3-D reasons). The trailers before the film, all animated films, showed the limitations of the technology, where essentially any quick movement (either by the character or the camera) is hard for the brain to register the depth. Coraline, by nature of its production, doesn’t have a lot of rapid figure movements or wild tracking shots, and is using real figures in real settings as opposed to CGI generated depth. The framing is by and large stationary, and it really lets the world pop out of the screen. It is a much different way of watching a movie and can take a little getting used to. I imagine an action film, however, could be quite taxing and headache inducing (imagine watching the Bourne Ultimatum in 3-D…? Queasy cam x 3).