Be careful, your wish may come true

3/17/2009

Coraline
Cast:
Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Ian McShane, John Hodgman
Director: Henry Selick
Rating: PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor.

By Gregg Tubbs
UMC.org

Coraline is a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience about a girl with a different kind of name who longs for a different and more exciting life.

She wants to live in a different place, have different friends, and most of all, have different (better) parents. When she enters a parallel world where another mother and father wait to greet her, she learns the truth of the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” Coraline is an intoxicatingly imaginative romp that swings from fun-filled joyride to preteen nightmare. There are moments in Coraline that are playfully ghoulish and others that could scare the very young. But isn’t that the charm of a good fairy tale or ghost story — to feel a little tingle of fright and still know that it will be all right?

Based on Neil Gaiman's international best-selling book, Coralline has been brought deliciously to life by director Henry Selick using the arcane but spectacular art of stop-motion animation. Available in select theatres in 3D, Coraline is above all else a feast for the eyes and ears. Its haunting musical score by Bruno Coulais perfectly matches the visual design, evoking an air of childlike whimsy tinged with just enough menace.

Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning) longs to escape the boredom of the boarding house in the country her family has moved to so her parents can concentrate on writing a gardening catalogue. Completely focused on meeting their publishing deadline, Coraline’s parents barely look up from their computers when she enters the room. She dreams of a better life with parents that are more attentive. When she discovers a magical door in the house that leads to a parallel world, her dreams seem to have come true.

At first, this parallel reality seems like her real life — only much better. Here, her parents are solicitous and adoring, catering to her every whim. The other residents of the boarding house, who were just odd in the real world, are delightfully entertaining in this one. But before long, sinister details emerge. Her “other mother” in particular is almost predatory in her possessiveness, and eerily, everyone in this other world has buttons for eyes. Fearing that she will lose her, the Other Mother kidnaps Coraline’s real parents. With this dream world dissolving into a dangerous nightmare, Coraline finds that it’s up to her to rescue her real parents and free them all from the Other Mother’s clutches.

Coraline is far from a “message” movie, but like any good children’s story, there are lessons and learning moments galore. We see the reassuring message of good triumphing over evil. Coraline herself makes an inspiring heroine. Though small in stature, she possesses great resourcefulness, determination and courage. Witnessing her bravery could help foster bravery in a young heart. We also see her willingness to risk her own safety in order to rescue her parents. Coraline learns to appreciate her real parents, faults and all, and discovers that those we love do not need to be perfect or live up to some fantasy ideal. Perhaps most importantly, Coraline learns the lesson that the things we want are often not the things we need. Sometimes parents — and yes God — have a wiser, better plan.

This brings us to the question of fear. Is Coraline too scary? It might be too intense for younger children, but children at least 8- or 9-years-old should do just fine. There can be value to a little scariness. A scary story can be a tonic to young minds, providing a wakeup call of sorts. In the case of Coraline, things are sometimes not what they seem: Danger can be lurking behind a pleasant and attractive package. Reality — however imperfect — is better than the most alluring fantasy. Plus, the presence of a little danger and a touch of fear give Coraline’s victory, and new appreciation of her parents, greater resonance.

Coraline is a richly imaginative, beautifully crafted and haunting film with the potential to be rewarding and enriching experience.