On Wednesday night Hilleke, our friend Esther and I got a chance to go and see an advance screening of the new 3-D stop-motion film Coraline at the BFI. And even better, after the film they had a Q&A session with Neil Gaiman and the films director Henry Selick. I’ll get to the Q&A in a moment but first, what did I think of the film.
To put it simply, I loved it!
To be more complicated I thought this was one of the best children’s films to come along in a very long time. I’m a bit of a connessieur of movies made for children (probably says something about my level of maturity) but to be honest most of the films made for kids today just aren’t very good. Other than Pixar, most studios think all you have to do is have a computer generated talking animal spouting pop culture references or fart jokes and the kids will flock to it (and unfortunately they’re usually right). As a result you end up with a stream of generic and bland films.
Coraline is different. It reminds me of films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or The Dark Crystal. Films that didn’t mind being disturbing and scary. I believe me when I say, Coraline is quite scary, even for an adult.
I won’t give you a plot synopsis but if you want to know the story here’s a wikipedia link;
Are we all back? Good, I’ll continue. Now as I said earlier I think Coraline works wonderfully as a children’s film. Why? Firstly the main character is believable and relatable. Coraline Jones is not pefect, she’s moody and disobediant and she feels that no one is listening to her (and a lot of the time she is right). In short she’s a normal kid who just happens to get into a crazy situation, but it’s one that I’m sure most kids could believe anyway (my parents are really scary monsters)
Secondly as I stated earlier, the movie is bloody scary! This film does not pull any punches in the fright department. From the creepy designs of the “Other” characters, especially when things start going bad, to some genuinely tense chase scenes, this is the kind of film that will give kids nightmares and in years to come will stick with them as a highlight of their childhoods. I used to be terrified of Dr Who when I was a kid. I would watch it while hiding under the couch but I watched it every week none the less and loved it. That’s the thing, kids love to be scared and movie makers seem to have forgotten that, which is why Coraline is like a breath of spooky air.
Henry Selick has created a little gem here. As Neil Gaiman will point out at every opportunity, Selick deserves all the credit for this film. And it seems he is finally getting the recognition he deserved but never received for his previous films, The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach (both also highly recommended).
The animation in this film is amazing! You actually forget that it is stop motion everything moves so well. But there’s a realism and a solid feeling that computer generation still can’t achieve. It actually freaks you out a little to realise that everything you are seeing was animated by hand. The 3-D is also very well done. Modern 3-D is being used not for the gimmicry of past attempts but to try and give the frame a sense of depth. Hilleke and I disagree about it’s advantages, she argues that as it still has quite a few problems (the frame rate does seem to jutter if there’s a lot going on) and she feels that you don’t get to view the frame properly and lose some of the exploration, if things are constantly being thrown at you. On the other hand while I do acknowledge that it still has teething problems, I think that it’s an exciting idea and when it works it can look quite beautiful. And there are some awe inspiring moments in this film.
After the film there was a Q&A with Gaiman and Selick. Most of it was just general “making of” stuff but it was still quite interesting hearing how long it takes to make a stop motion film (about 3 years). Gaiman talks a lot but I was pleasantly surprised that he didn’t take over the whole session and Selick got to talk a lot about the process. And there was a lovely moment when a very nervous member of the audience gave his hero Selick a gift. The poor guy was so nervous he was almost crying and it was cool to see what an impact his films have had on people. As an aside I love that Henry Selick looks like one of his creations, impossibly tall and all angles. Apparently Neil Gaimans daughter thinks he looks just like Jack Skellington and she’s not far wrong.
So this review has turned into a bit of a novel, but in conclusion I think Coraline is a great film. It’s very much a kids film and adults may find it a bit simple. But watch it with your kids (maybe under the couch) and they’re bound to get a good healthy scare.