Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Coraline: The Long-Awaited Review

Maybe I should have said long-overdue review. But I like to think you guys actually want to hear my thoughts on things, even if they've been in the works for a week or two now! :) (This awesome picture is from Bard Sculpture Studio, who have a bunch of others in their gallery - very cool!)

There are so many things swirling around my head about this movie, I've been having trouble starting somewhere. This is why it's easier to go to the movies with a friend, and then spend the next few days saying, "You know the part where this happened? That was so cool!" or "Did you notice this in such-and-such scene?"

It's hard to suggest an audience for this movie. I understand why Henry Selick said they were having a hard time figuring out how to promote it - some might think it's too scary for little kids, but not scary enough for adults. But anyone who has a love for handmade movies with a lot of heart and immense amounts of creativity and artistry will love this film. I love the creepy feel to it, but I can see kids liking that as well. I think back to books I read as a kid like Roald Dahl and even the original Grimm's and Andersen's fairy tales, and they were pretty gruesome at times. So I would put this in the same creepy box as those - enjoyable, with a little eww/shiver factor thrown in for fun, and a little message to boot.

Now, of course this movie is right up my alley. I love stop motion, am studying animation (and have loved it for a long time), love crafts, and The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of my favorite movies of all time. In order to really be successful, though, you have to have a good story and endearing, believable characters. And this movie's got those. The character models to begin with are adorable - huge, disproportionate heads and tiny bodies. That's totally my style (both the characters I've created for animating have had ginormous heads and tiny necks and bodies). And they put so much thought and detail into each character's outfits, those in Other World distinctly different from the Real World, and yet similar enough that you could easily overlook them.

And then there's the animating. Being a computer animator is completely different from stop motion. Just as 2D (drawing) animation is its own animal. But they all refer back to the Animation Principles, and that's the difference between you believing these characters have a life of their own, versus watching puppets get manipulated around a set, no matter how cute and creative they may look. There are parts in this movie I found myself grinning just for how the animators captured Coraline's spirit.

Now, if you haven't seen the movie yet, you might want to skip this part because I'm feeling the need to get into some specific scenes here. At the beginning, when she's walking down the hill with the dowser, her little legs-straight-out walk/march is adorable and yet conveys how childlike she is, but taking herself very seriously. And the mischievous swinging back and forth on the squeaky door to get her father's attention, or the whining at her mother to unlock the door for her - these are things that often aren't written into the script, or can't be gotten from voice acting. They're from the animators and director, and it's those little things that make you believe this little girl and help describe her inner character.

What makes these tidbits even more amazing (this is something Miyazaki does incredibly well, as well), is that animation is not a quick process. You can't improv something and cut it into the movie. It has to be painstakingly planned and timed, each miniscule joint moved fractions of an inch at a time, and then see if it reads well when all those still frames are rolled at film speed. Can you imagine how difficult it was before you had instant playback? Ray Harryhausen had it tough, folks, and yet he still made us believe in giant apes and cyclops.

So now, after this love-fest, was there anything I didn't like about the movie? Yeah, there was. But it wasn't enough to overshadow the things I love about it. I'm not going to go into detail here because they're pretty specific parts of the movie, and I really don't like to spoil movie things for others. But if you really want to know, I'm happy to discuss them offline.

Maybe I love Coraline so much because she's more a tomboy like my sisters and I were growing up. She's not afraid of bugs, loves the mud and going out in her stompers (galoshes) and raincoat, and in general she's not afraid to be herself. She gets out of her situation by being clever and brave, and she stands up for herself. It's not always easy to find such strong qualities in a female character.

I'll leave you with the inscription from the front of the book:
Fairy tales are more than true: not because
they tell us that dragons exist, but because
they tell us that dragons can be beaten. - G.K. Chesterton

With that said, if you have not seen this yet, do so - it's definitely worth seeing on the big screen, and there are still some places showing it in 3D as well. I'm ready to go again!

1 comment:

Clau said...

I didn't realize that this was all stop animation when I saw it. I thought it was all computer generated. When I found out later, and when I saw how Coraline's sweaters were all hand made in miniature, I was amazed. I had an even bigger respect for all those people who had a part in creating it.


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