Coraline – Henry Selick – After moving into a new house, disgruntled by her parents’ neglect, Coraline begins to discover a dream reality that runs in parallel to her dreary existence. However, the ‘other’ reality, in which everyone has buttons sown in place of eyes (corresponding to a doll she was given, by a neighbouring child), does not retain its magical sense of sanctuary for long…soon Coraline is trapped in a soured fantasy that grows increasingly and restlessly threatening.
Firstly, the stop-motion animation is inventive (managing not to recall or lean on any recognisable visual tropes…it’s neither Aardman nor Pixar, instead Selick’s animation – A Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach has its own vibrant and uncompromising take on ‘children’s film’) and secondly it is consistently entertaining. Faces and figures are rendered with often grotesque exaggeration, whether spindly or bloated, conjuring often macabre and fascinating portraits. It is so refreshing to see a children’s animation that can also appeal to a more adult audience, not by whoring half-hearted innuendos and lazy pop culture references…the crossover 'family' film that has long grown tired...but through artistic ingenuity, thrilling imagination and a convincingly unsettling ‘darkness’ that refuses to patronise its audience.
Originally a book by Neil Gaiman, Coraline bounces with riotous energy from various cultural sources and themes. The film has several surrealist mementoes, a reappearing praying mantis, an ominous giraffe, the dark and powerful garden, and the uncanny doubling of worlds – playing with Freud’s uncanny. The uncanny also resurfaces in the Gothic re-working of The Sandman tale, where instead of simply being blinded – eyes are replaced: recalling the toy doll that entraps the children, stitched eyes become cruelly ironic symbols of the childhood ‘play’ that tempted them into the world, and which, now, is an imprisoned forever. The film also clearly enjoys engaging with a resonance with Alice in Wonderland, growing up and tumbling through mirrors, crawling through tunnels, all being uncertain passages of identity that trouble the transition from childhood into adolescence. This is, all in all, a carnivalesque, innovative exploration of growing up and the troubled dreams we escape to, and often, try to escape from. 9/10