Movies fill a screen with images, which flash in front of our eyes and create an emotional response. When movies work, they work more on the visual level than on any other.
“Coraline” is the most visually stimulating movie I have seen. It ranks with any that Pixar or Dreamworks have produced. What is furthermore amazing is that “Coraline” is produced in stop-motion animation for 3-D. Henry Selick, the director, uses his eye for detail to film each frame of the movie one at a time. He creates a thing of beauty and wonder.
Coraline (Dakota Fanning) is a pre-teen who moves into the Pink Palace apartments with her mother (Teri Hatcher) and father (John Hodgman). Her parents are distracted and seemingly self-absorbed writers. Coraline is cast off -- an unhappy reality that surfaces in her relationships with others.
Take Wyborn (Robert Bailey, Jr.), the boy who lives down the hill. Coraline tells him she knows how he got his name: His parents were saying, “Why were you born?” Coraline is unpleasant and demanding.
In Coraline’s apartment, there is a small door in the wall. Fascinated by the door, Coraline gets her mother to find the key for it. The key is odd, with a button on one end, but when it opens the door, nothing but a brick wall is there. That changes.
At night, a small mouse appears and leads Coraline to the door. She opens it again to find a tunnel leading to an “other side of the looking glass” world. There, her parents are not self-absorbed and things are brighter and more colorful. This world holds promise that the other side lacks. There is only one problem: The mother in this world wants Coraline to be like all the others there -- and they all have button eyes.
Coraline discovers, with the aid of a cat (Keith David), that this world may have greener grass, but what is underneath is uglier and more threatening than the other world.
“Coraline” presents some concerns. One clearly is that many parents will see it as a movie for their children. But “Coraline” is a scary movie, with images and a story too frightening for a younger child to handle. I would not recommend it to younger children, certainly none under seven years old.
Another is the 3-D presentation. When I took my 12-year-old son to see it, we had to pay an extra $3 per ticket to see it in 3-D. The matinee cost for the two of us: $19. The extra cost was not advertised, so beware.
As to the movie, it is an interesting parable on childhood. Families in which both mother and father work can produce circumstances where parents are otherwise distracted and children feel neglected. “Coraline” does not preach about this as a problem to be solved, but as a cultural circumstance. The struggle Coraline goes through to right the wrong she discovers speaks to the love held for both parents and others.
It also presents a heroine who seems self-centered but, in the end, works for the good of all. And it’s actually the cat that helps Coraline see the world of apparent sweetness and light to be more sinister and dark. Which brings up a side note.
Neil Gaiman, author of the novel on which the movie is based, is also the author of The Sandman comic book series. In volume three of the collected series, there is a story entitled “A Dream of a Thousand Cats.” Gaiman speaks in it of the power of cats, writing, “All cats can see futures and see echoes of the past.”
When watching “Coraline,” it is the cat that needs to be followed, for the cat is the one who sees, directs and empowers Coraline to shake off some of that self-centeredness to become who she truly is. He helps her become the person her parents raise her to be.
In the end, “Coraline” is a fine story about the pull of reality and how parents do a better job at raising their children than they may get credit for.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor. Reviewer’s note: Not recommended for younger children.
Director: Henry Selick
Writer: Henry Selick (based on a novel by Neil Gaiman)
Voices: Coraline: Dakota Fanning; Wyborn: Robert Bailey, Jr.; Mother: Teri Hatcher; Father: John Hodgman; Cat: Keith David.