Coraline pleases the eye, not the mind

Who is that shiny-haired girl in a raincoat and swampers? She is Coraline Jones, adventurous girl and star of Coraline. Of course, she is just made of clay, but Henry Selick has given her life on the big screen in his 3-D film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel.

The film begins with Coraline falling into the easily relatable boredom to which excitable children are prone. This cruel case stems from her dear, boring and busy mother and father who have planted the family into a new pot (the Pink Palace apartments of Oregon). This removed Coraline from her friends in Pontiac, Michigan. Left with only the talkative and creepy new neighbor, Wyborn, Coraline prefers to find entertainment elsewhere by chatting up the strange tenants of the Pink Palace. Although their peculiarities would usually be enough to satisfy even the most curious minds, Coraline’s thirst for adventure is still not quenched.

It is then that she, led by a doll of shocking resemblance, finds a secret door in her own apartment. The door is small, just large enough for a child to crawl through, and hidden behind the wallpaper – the perfect bait for an incorrigible adventurer. After this leads to nothing, Coraline falls asleep after a day of disappointment, but later finds her best lead for excitement. Awakened by jumping mice, she hunts them down to the little door, opens it and finds herself in a perfect world seemingly spun by her dreams.

This rabbit hole then leads onward to an Other World of great things, but a slight sinister presence is growing more malevolent with Coraline’s every visit. It suddenly strikes, and Coraline must save herself from her dream turned nightmare.

Frankly, I consider that plot to be an amazing work of fantasy. However, the film is under one man’s guidance – Henry Selick. He, being director and screenplay writer, basically has all control and somehow tweaks the film enough to make less of a splash. Other than having actually written the novel, Neil Gaiman’s presence is absent. This perhaps disappoints some viewers that have actually read the book, which greatly explains why the movie takes such misguided opportunities to make creative changes that apparently disappoint everyone.

Selick visually astounds the audience with Coraline, but in my opinion he should have been limited in creative control. In every other film under his direction, with the exception of Monkeybone, he makes a visual masterpiece of a story adapted by separate screenwriters. There are added characters with no background, and a horribly tacky recreation of the Birth of Venus with a buxom old woman.

The first true climax of the film fell short of exciting. This, the grand challenge Coraline must make against the ruler of this Other World, just does not validate the anticipation I felt building inside me as Coraline’s perfect world grew more and more sinister. The moment felt entirely too rushed and the challenges far less complicated than I imagined. There should have been some anguish or some feeling that she may not accomplish her daring deeds by the finish, or some greater peril in the tasks she had to accomplish.

All of my nit-picking aside, Selick did visually bring Coraline to excellence. It stands taller than all of his previous works. The production helps the movie in a huge way. I, even having not seen it in 3-D, was amazed by the sets and characters. Nothing seemed to draw attention in a negative way, nor did any realistic replica hinder the fantastical world. Selick has a knack for his art and his potential was used in full. Discussing the setting, his directing has reached a stunning pinnacle of expertise. Selick’s comparison of the bland and monotonous Oregon town to the truly brilliant and creative Other World is as stark as night and day.

Though Coraline may be less than the completely amazing film it could have been, it is beautiful, it does tell a new story and even if you have read the book, it’s still great to see on the silver screen.