Animated movies are getting more sophisticated all the time. Considering the years and efforts that go into making them, we’re fortunate to see a few gems every year. The newest animated film to hit the big screen is Coraline, a scrappy story about a young girl, adapted from Neil Gaiman’s book. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this one a gem.
Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is a youngster who has just moved with her parents to an old large house in a desolate area. She wanders the neighborhood of sparse trees, ultimately running into Wybie (voiced by Wylie Bailey Jr.), a boy hoping to spook Coraline. He’s even more intent on this when she responds to him with an insolent attitude. Wybie’s grandmother, she learns, owns the house she lives in.
Because Coraline’s parents (voices by Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman), both writers, are constantly at their computers, she’s repeatedly robbed of their attention. And who can’t identify with that scenario today? So Coraline is left to her own discoveries. When she detects a small door in the living room and opens it, she finds a brick wall. But at night in her dreams the door opens -- and Coraline crawls through a tunnel to discover the Other World where another set of parents adore her and dote on her. Her father talks and plans things to do with Coraline; her mother fixes her beautiful meals.
“Beware what you wish for” is a motto Coraline doesn’t understand at first. The only difference Caroline sees in the Other World involves parents having buttons in place of eyes. There’s an impish feral cat (voiced by Keith David) and a few goofy characters like Mr. Bobinsky (voiced by Ian McShane), Miss Spink (voiced by Jennifer Saunders) and Miss Forcible (voiced by Dawn French) that inhabit the story. But they are far outnumbered by the gruesome witches and abnormalities they create in Coraline’s parents and others.
The more I watched this film, the more I gasped at its darkness and obvious scariness for young children. The idea of a child’s mother being kidnapped by a witch and then turned into an evil mother posing to that child as the most wonderful mother he or she ever wanted, could, I believe, have worked. Kids dig scary things these days, but this movie gets too explicit, bombarding the screen with a darker aspect every minute. Merely thinking of watching someone remove your eyes, then sew on buttons to replace them, appears very creepy. Another frightening aspect of the film comes when Coraline discovers three small ghost children who are imprisoned by the witch in the Other World. Their destiny lies with her.
One can’t find fault with the film’s visual look. The stop-motion animation is incredible. Director Henry Selick (James and the Giant Peach, The Nightmare Before Christmas) is no stranger to imaginative and visually appealing films. Desiring a different look for the movie than the artwork in the book, Selick brought Japanese illustrator and designer Tadahiro Uesugi on board as a concept artist. The visuals are superb. Adorable mice, flowers that morph into faces, Mr. Bobinsky’s circus characters and Miss Spink and Miss Forcible’s dogs are delightful elements that appear in Coraline’s world; but only momentarily. The darker elements are present far more often.
While watching this movie I couldn’t help thinking it’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers for kids. I wouldn’t let any of my children under 12 see this version of Coraline.
Photo Credits: LAIKA Entertainment / Focus Features