Monday, February 9, 2009
A certain amount of spoiling exists in this post, so read with caution...
Imagine finding a handmade doll under your bed. It's charming, delightful, it inspires you greatly, it touches you deeply, you fall in love with it immediately. It speaks to you in a deeply personal, but also universal fashion.
Sure, there's a few threads loose on your discovery, here and there. Loose threads that if you pulled upon too hard, bad things would happen. The wonderful thing you'd just discovered would start to unravel, its seams loosening, its shape softening... its stuffing dripping out in sad little tufts.
So you'd be mad to pull those threads, wouldn't you, when you love the thing as it is. Nothing is perfect.
There are loose threads in the story of Coraline that I don't want to pull on, but can't resist, in the few days since I've seen it. I've no desire to go into them all, but there are many.
I will offer an example. At one point, Coraline states that the doll version of herself has been created by The Other Mother to spy upon her (Coraline), in order to discover what it is that she (Coraline) wants most. With that knowledge, The Other Mother can fabricate a world that will appeal deeply to Coraline, in order to trap her in it. Fair enough. A rule of the world of this film has been established. The function of the mini doll is to spy.
In the course of the film, Coraline's real parents disappear. Coraline finds a mini doll version of them (the mother on one side, the father on the other- a two sided doll), under the bed of the parents. Later, we see the parents trapped in a frozen realm.
What is the spied information that the mother/father doll transmits to The Other Mother? From that, how does she use that information to trap the parents? I can't accept the defense (if it was offered) that "In the book, it all makes sense." This is not a book, it is a film, and it has to make sense on its own.
These loose story elements abound, but they come fast and hard and you have no time to consider their consequences and interconnections, because you are wonderfully overwhelmed by all the OTHER amazing things that are occurring- visually, thematically, and metaphorically.
I think these problems are in part the result of the ambition the film exhibits. Technically, and in terms of performance, the film has clearly raised the medium of stop motion animation to a new height. As director Henry Selick points out in an HBO featurette on Coraline (find it on youtube), this film does things in stop motion that have never been done before.
This desire to reach higher ALSO shows itself in the story, and its here that the unfortunate loose threads reside. The film tries for so very much in terms of weaving story elements, some get away.
Do these loose threads diminish the film for me? As I said in the intro, I loved this film. I loved entering the world (all the easier for its mature use of 3D), I loved the characters, the design, the pace, the mood, the charm... this film EMBRACES stop motion, by allowing things to really look handmade. It doesn't try to hide the effect of human hands. I wasn't bored for a moment, I was engaged and enchanted... and the maturity of themes impressed me deeply. This film in very few ways talked down to the audience, or insulted its intelligence.
At least not in the heat of the moment. The rough spots only show up later.
So you have the doll you found under you bed. You are amazed at your discovery, you have fallen in love with this new friend, that you can imagine whole worlds with, that you can bring to life in your imagination. You are awe-struck by how wonderfully its constructed, the sheer beauty of it as a thing of art. And on top of ALL that, it has charm. Real charm, that hooks you (and is why you have fallen in love).
In time, you see a loose thread, here and there. But you will never forget that first moment of discovery, how magical it was. Flaws exist, but your love remains.
Coraline is the most wondrous, magical, engaging, and breathtakingly beautiful animated feature film I can recall.
I love Coraline, full stop.