I have already made room on my wall for a “Coraline” poster next to my “Nightmare Before Christmas” art. It’s only fitting, since both were directed by the same person, who, fyi, is NOT Tim Burton, but Henry Selick. If you’re still wondering why “Corpse Bride” kind of sucked in comparison, it’s because Selick was busy doing stop-motion animation for “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” Wes Anderson, you ruin everything.
“Coraline” is infused with the signature spookiness of its source, a book by fantasy writer Neil Gaiman. The author is appropriately bizarre: He not only co-wrote a totally whacky apocalypse novel with Terry Pratchett, he also moved into an “Addams Family house” in Minnesota because it was one of those things that “only America can provide.” That’s the spirit.
Selick’s cast is fittingly creeptastic, featuring a bony spider-woman/witch who looks like Jack Skellington’s long-lost evil aunt and a zombified man whose piano “plays him,” to name but a few of the film’s twisted characters. They are an absolute delight to look at, along with the rest of the film’s visuals, which showcase Selick’s boundless imagination and signature style at its craziest, wildest and most colorful. And in 3-D, too. While the movie would still look gorgeous in a regular theater, it lends itself perfectly to this medium, artfully balancing flinch moments with stunning shots.
Don’t be fooled by the pretty garden in the preview. “Coraline” is a quintessential adult-oriented children’s movie. It doesn’t take long for some fantastically horrific stuff to go down (not for naught did critics of the book claim it was heavily influenced by Freud’s essay on the uncanny). The movie’s treatment of the hidden parallel universe theme is eerie, recalling “Nightmare”’s mixture of spooky creativity and beautiful weirdness. Some doors should not be opened, unless you’re old enough to sleep with the lights off.
And if you are, there’s no reason not to see this film. Henry Selick’s commercial output cycle mirrors the path of Hayley’s comet, so unless he finally gets the hype he deserves, it’ll be a while before we get another stop-motion eye candy. Also, the black cat is totally cooler than Zero.