This October, we’re celebrating some of the best horror films ever made. Look out for a new classic review daily across the month on The Film Blog, as well as more special treats along the way!
Day eleven’s pick might be a children’s film but expect no easy ride from Coraline.
By some cruel, if ultimately reasonable, twist of fate, Laika have yet to win an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Their first feature, Coraline, lost out to Pixar’s Up in 2010 but this is absolutely that film’s equal. Frightening – even for adults – and brilliantly designed, Coraline has a vocal cast to die for and boasts seemingly boundless imagination. What more could one expect when it was born of a Neil Gaiman story and directed by the man who made The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Henry Selick is perhaps well described as the Tim Burton of wire and silicon (although Burton too has dabbled this way). His stop-motion films are dark and often brilliantly unpleasant but, by equal measure, loaded with smart humour, an eye of spectacle and a real sense of wonderment. Such is the case with Coraline. This is a tremendous animation, comprised of thrills and chills that will leave parents worrying about its suitability, whilst their children enjoy its riotous ride.
Dakota Fanning lends a suitably whiney, midwestern voice to the blue-haired and yellow-coated Coraline, who is relocated by her parents from Michigan to a dilapidated apartment home in Oregon, ironically named the ‘Pink Palace’. With her parents fixated on work – hilariously they are horticultural writers who have no time to go out and live in a baron environment – Coraline is left to explore her new home and soon finds a secret door. It’s bricked up. How odd. When jumping mice wake her up in the night, however, Coraline returns to the door and finds a gorgeous, shimmering tunnel, leading to an alternate reality.
In this ‘Other World’, Coraline finds happier versions of her parents – they cook, they sing, they grow magical plants in the garden – and more colourful iterations of her neighbours, retired actresses Mrs. Spink and Forcible (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French) and circus maestro the Amazing Bobinsky (Ian McShane). It seems perfect, dreamlike even, except something is very, very wrong. For a start, the ‘Other’ people have buttons for eyes. Very soon, Coraline’s dream will become a very troubling nightmare.
A crew of over four hundred animators, designers, puppeteers and digital technicians lie behind the scenes of Selick’s film, which melds Alice and Wonderland with beats of The Matrix, and have created together a masterpiece. What impresses most is the scope of the world that has been created for the film. Expansive and fabulously detailed, the scenography here is a joy to behold and yet disturbing to the extreme. Every inch of the film’s gothic landscape, and the exquisite components within, were designed and built by hand. Digital wizardry was utilised only to latterly enhance scenes with a 3D conversion and the finished effect is incredible.
It’s a very brave family film that plays so sinister and Coraline may well be the most frightening children’s animation ever made. Teri Hatcher’s ‘Other Mother’ transforms from lovable to deadly in the course of the film, whilst Coraline herself is a striking character by virtue of being almost unlikeable. Her first line in the film is a bitter snap – ‘You scared me to death you mangy thing!’ – whilst her treatment of earnest geek Wyborne (Robert Bailey Jr.) boarders on the cruel. She may live in a ‘palace’, go hunting for wishing wells and talk to animals but Coraline is no Disney princess. If anything, she’s a subversive ‘other’ to those classic heroines and all the more interesting for it.
Beyond the film’s superlative animation, Selick’s script is delightful. The pace bounces with an energy worthy of its visual ingenuity, whilst the puzzling mysteries of the plot engage and hook. Above all, Bruno Coulais’ score sings with a beguiling Japonist quality. Never mind the kids, by the film’s climactic chase, it is adults that will be driven to the edge of their seats, desperately searching for a sofa to leap behind.