Friday, February 20, 2009

"Coraline": top of the art in 3-D animation

The animated film from “indie” distributor Focus Features (for Universal) "Coraline", directed by Henry Selick, based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, still seems to be packing in the crowds, still is packing in the crowds during this recession. At the sold out early show (starting its third week, and the last week of 3-D screenings) at the AMC Tysons Corner in Virginia, staff asked me to move twice to accommodate large families. That’s unusual.

As so often with “children’s” movies (this one is PG for some slight suggestivity in a couple scenes), there is a lot of “meaning” in here for grownups. Coraline’s parents have moved from Michigan to an isolated “apartment” house that is 150 years old hidden away in the Rocky Mountains (hint, Stephen King, his gentler side). It’s funny that it rains a lot and doesn’t snow in the film; it seems to be fall. Mom and Pop are both writers, but their subject matter seems to be limited to gardening (no reputation problems). Mom works on a laptop, but Pop, who is not a geek, works on an old box that looks like a TRS-80 that fails when the power takes a hit. They keep telling her to go away (Pop calls her a “fusspot”), so Coraline finds a wormhole in the house to go to an alternate universe.

There, her parents are glamorous, but with one caveat: their eyes are sewn over with buttons. (The opening sequence of the film shows automated sewing, recalling both “Cold Mountain” and “Spider”). At first, Caroline is happy, because she finds real gardens and beauty, not just textbooks on gardens. The reorganized Pop entertains her with a player piano that is cleverly animated with gears (the piano plays him! – hint!) But then there is the down side. Her “alternate parents” go bad on her, and soon the alternate Mom wants to sew her eyes over with the buttons. And her male friend already has lost his mouth (that also happens in Stephen King’s “Creepshow”).

Coraline makes friends with a Mephistophelean cat who becomes one of the stars of the film. You really want this feline to be real, as the cat helps lead her back.

The question of “who your real parents are” comes up in other films and shows, most notably CWTV’s “Smallville”, and, in a different context, “Supernatural” as well.

Remember, back in 2005, Walt Disney's "Chicken Little" was in 3-D (and made a great subtle point about "internet online reputation" early; Columbia's "Monster House" (2006) was also in 3-D.

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