A number of years later, each of the director's made a new entry in the stop- motion animation genre. Tim Burton, working with another director, created "Corpse Bride". And Selick chose to make the live action – stop motion hybrid called "Monkeybone" starring Brendan Fraser and Whoopi Goldberg, among many others.
Both of these films lack a crucial element making the material flawed, at best, and downright awful at worst. What is that crucial element? The other half of the team. In "Corpse Bride", Burton's unique visual style is fully evident and the film is stunning visually. This is really no surprise for a Tim Burton film. All of his films have a stunning, fable like visual quality. But like all of Burton's films, "Corpse Bride" really falters in the storytelling. "Monkey Bone" is, quite simply, a dreadful film. Selick clearly can't guide the human actors as well as he can a puppet and all of the acting is dreadful. Considering the stop motion animation is relegated to a supporting role in this film, the worst part of the film takes center stage.
Now, both directors are returning with new stop motion animation projects. Selick returns as writer and director of "Coraline", based on a book by Neil Gaiman, and presented in 3-D. Burton teams with Timur Babmenetkov, director of the Russian films "Night Watch" and "Day Watch", to bring us "9", a film that appears to be about robot figures trying to rebuild a post-apocalyptic Earth. It will be released on 9-9-09.
"Coraline", written and directed by Selick, is as close to a magical film as I have seen in a number of years. I would definitely recommend seeking out a theater showing the film in 3-D. The film doesn't contain a lot of 3-D tricks, hands and objects flying at the screen so the audience will have the effect of the item flying at them, and 3-D isn't necessary to enjoy the film, but it adds such a depth to the story and the visuals that I can only imagine the film would be completely different without the 3-D glasses. The backgrounds and characters seem to belong in the real world and we get to experience a little of this thanks to the addition of 3-D.
Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) and her parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman, "The Daily Show withy Jon Stewart") move to a new apartment in a dreary old building in the middle of a large field almost completely devoid of both color and plant life. Bored, Coraline tries to get her parents to go on a walk, or to play with her, to do anything, But they are both so busy writing their new gardening catalog (and each hates touching dirt) that they start to get upset with her for being a nuisance. She decides to explore the house and the grounds and soon meets Whybie, the grandson of Coraline's new landlord. As she continues to explore, she meets the elderly British sisters, Miss Forcible and Miss Spink (Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders), former vaudevillians, who live upstairs and a former Russian gymnast, Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane, HBO's "Deadwood", "Deathrace") who lives downstairs. She soon finds a small door behind some wallpaper. It's locked, but her annoyed mom is only too glad to open it, anything to stop her daughter from nagging. As Coraline peers inside. She finds a passageway to a parallel world. In this new world, her mom and dad are very attentive and loving, seeking to entertain her all the time. The apartment is bright and colorful. The gardens are overgrown with colorful flowers. A little Scottish Terrier (Keith David) talks. It seems like everything in this new world is designed to make her happy. All Coraline has to do to make her stay in this world permanent is to adapt to it completely and make herself look just like everyone else. And everyone else has black buttons sewn in where their eyes should be.
"Coraline", based on a book by Neil Gaiman, has a dark, fairy tale quality that really helps to set it apart, to make it a little special. All of the best animated films and the best fairy tales are at least a little dark. All of Roald Dahl's children's books have a slightly sinister quality to them; parents die leaving children in strange circumstances or children find escape in slightly sinister adults. Gaiman borrows this quality, bringing a darkness to Coraline's world, both literally and figuratively. Coralline has both of her parents, but she maybe wishes she didn't because all they seem to care about is work leaving her to entertain herself.
When the Jones family moves into their new apartment, Coraline is shocked to find everything so dark and gray and devoid of character. The entire apartment building appears to have seen no sunlight in decades, everything in covered in a gray pallor. When she goes outside to explore, an overcast sky prompts her to wear a rain slicker. But the area looks so devoid of life we have to wonder if the sun has taken a permanent vacation from the area. When she meets Whybie, he doesn't seem to realize there is an alternative because he is so used to the barren landscape.
As in any fable, there has to be an alternative, either good or bad. And in "Coraline", the alternative initially appears very good to the little girl. She follows a secret passageway and ends up in a complete copy of her apartment. It is exactly the same in every way except that it is colorful, furnished with comfortable, homey furnishings and her parents seem particularly intent on making sure their daughter is having fun. In other words, she recognizes it because it is the same, but she is shocked because it is so completely different. She also finds that animals talk in this new world, plants grow and seem to perform and her mom seems particularly interested in making sure her daughter is happy. But as the poster for the film says, "Be careful what you wish for".
Selick and his team do an amazing job of giving each character a distinctive look and personality. And this attention to detail continues throughout every aspect of the environment and story. As Coraline explores the family's new apartment, she looks very large in hallways and small and insignificant in some of the huge, high ceiling rooms. It is a nice way of illustrating how foreign the environment is to her, how much she feels like an alien in these new surroundings.
The large Victorian that houses her family's new apartment is also particularly dark, spooky and unwelcoming. So when Coraline enters the alternative world and everything is painted in deep, but vibrant colors, and everyone seems so welcoming, she dives into the new world.
Not only are her parents very different, but her neighbors are also different. Whybie tries to warn her, but soon, he appears with buttons as eyes and seems much more complacent. Coraline finds a theater in the building and watches an extended performance by the British sisters, the highlight of which is a reenactment of "The Birth of Venus" by the two women and one of the very buxom sisters appears wearing nothing but some pasties and a very small bikini bottom.
"Coraline" has much to discover that I could go on for pages and pages, but that would ruin a lot of the fun. It is better for you to discover it on your own.
I will say that I think "Coraline" is a great film for families with kids over a certain age. The film has some dark elements that might scare some younger kids and even though this is an animated film, if you take very young kids to see it, you'll only have to leave the theater early when they get scared. I know some parents have difficulty taking their kids to films like "Curious George". If this is you, stay away from "Coraline". But if your kids are, oh, at least 10, this is a great choice for the whole family because there is something for everyone to enjoy and delight in.
I hope this film quickly earns the title it deserves allowing it to be enjoyed by generations to come.